QUEENSBURY — Several women in the remote mountain village of Leon, Haiti, quickly calculated the ingredients for pastries: Flour, sugar, butter.
But when Janice Holding of Bay Road Church in Lake George gave them the $10 to purchase the items at the local market, they had no idea they would be baking their planned coconut goodies in a new solar oven.
“They ran around purchasing everything,” said Holding on Tuesday, adding that she had asked them to help her make pastries for the pastor at the church in Leon. “It was so cool watching them doing all this.”
Holding, along with three others on the Hope for Haiti team, just returned from a fifth trip to Leon.
What started as an idea in 2015 to help schoolchildren in this village has grown into an ongoing year-round effort to help 45 families become self-sustaining while also making sure 31 sponsored children stay in the local private Catholic school by buying their books, uniforms, paying their tuition and offering an after-school program that helps get homework done.
On this trip, the team — Holding, her husband, Andrew Holding, daughter, Charlotte Holding and Pat Hart of the Bay Road Church — worked for eight days with many of the student’s mothers, giving them new tools, like a solar oven, grinders and solar lights.
As part of their approach, the team works with the women to show them how to use the tools while also offering ways that the new tools might enhance their small market businesses. Then they let the women explore the possibilities.
“On Wednesday we took the solar oven over to one of the houses and showed them the oven,” said Holding, referring to the day the women learned about the ovens. “On Thursday, we went back and worked with them to mix the huge batter. It was like a thick Fig Newton, but with coconut. We put the first batch into the oven.”
And even though it took some tweaking to get used to baking with the solar oven, they had a huge batch of the pastries.
“Now they said they want to learn how to bake cakes and sell them,” she said,
In Leon, there are no ovens, no food grinders and no means to store food, like refrigerators. To grind grain or bake bread, they must walk a distance to the one man who has a generator that powers a mill and then they wait in line for their turn and pay him 15 gourde, or 18 cents, to grind their corn or peanuts for peanut butter. They must do the same thing to bake their breads.
The average annual income in rural Haiti per person is less than $500.
With ovens, the women can bake their own breads, they can charge others to bake bread for them and they can dry fruits for sale in off-season, like mangoes only available for a few months in July and August.
“I asked them, ‘What if you could offer mangoes for Christmas,’ and their eyes got so big,” Holding said.
Additionally, Holding said they want to get a sewing cooperative started, and on this trip they met with two local dressmakers about sewing classes for the women.
“At first they could learn cutting, how to sew straight seams, how to thread the machine,” she said.
One of the things they brought on this trip were “mooncatchers,” reusable cloth feminine products, and Holding said the women could learn how to sew the “mooncatchers” and sell them at market.
“They could also help the dressmakers make all the school uniforms,” she said.
On one of their last days in Leon, the Hope for Haiti team gave away solar lights to all the families and soft fleece blankets for the new school students.
The festive textiles had been crafted into double-fleece hand-cut and knotted blankets by several volunteers, not all connected to the church, during a Saturday blanket-making party at the Lake George church in January.
Additionally, they have been rebuilding walls and roofs on the homes after they were destroyed by a hurricane and they are making plans for the next homes to be completed.
“We are in touch weekly, and we will be sending money for the next homes,” Holding said.
On this recent trip, Holding said getting to make the pastries with the women was an incredible experience.
“We are really getting to know them,” she said. “Baking together, baking and joking, it was really, really cool.”