Haitian Cut-Metal

A transformation is happening in post-earthquake Haiti. Daily life continues to be a struggle for survival, but reliable Fair Trade jobs are providing a ray of hope and helping to lay the foundations for the rebuilding of the country.

Jean-Marie Colin operates a cut-metal workshop in the small town of Gressier, located 20km west of Port-au-Prince, not far from the earthquake’s epicentre. There he transforms old, discarded oil drums into uniquely inspired art. He is one of many Haitian metalworkers who, with every stroke of the hammer, are rebuilding homes and lives that were shattered by the events of January 12, 2010.  

Colin speaks of that day as one of the saddest of his life. When the first shock occurred, he was at a factory picking up scrap barrels for his work. He had only just stepped out of the truck to give a receipt to the gatekeeper, a fluke of circumstance that saved his life. At that moment, a factory building collapsed, crushing the truck and killing the driver. Colin was fortunate to survive, but is burdened still by the weight of what happened. The family of the driver has since sued and a judge has ordered him to pay reparations of US$5,000, a financial responsibility that has kept him from repairing his own home.

The income that Colin earns from Fair Trade craft production empowers him to plan for the future of his family. When he was young, his family had insufficient means to send him to school. Rather than learning to read, he began working at an early age. Now that he has four children of his own, two boys and two girls aged 14 to 21, he is glad that they have been able to go to school and access the opportunities that he was denied.

Colin has mastered the techniques of cut-metal work through lengthy experience. He first learned to work sheet metal from a master artisan near his home, and further honed his skills during a three year apprenticeship in a factory creating cut-metal products for export.

His greatest satisfaction, however, has always been envisioning and creating original designs inspired by the people and natural world around him. He eventually left the factory to set up his own workshop and has been creating his uniquely masterful pieces since. His oldest son now works alongside him and he employs another ten artisans and five apprentices, depending on the volume of orders.

With time, Colin hopes to fully repair his home and continue to provide opportunities to his family.

There is no doubt that the situation in Haiti is bleak and the need for jobs and income great. In spite of these challenges, the Haitian spirit abounds in pride and determination. A Haitian proverb explains, “Déyé món, gen món”; behind the mountains there are more mountains. We will always be faced with problems but none is too large to overcome.

Jean-Marie Colin is creating incredible beauty from recycled scrap metal. In the process he is giving birth to renewed hope for the future of his family and community. His work is a catalyst for the transformation that is occurring; a lasting one that comes from within and is full of the spirit and passion of the Haitian people.