It may not sound like much — some sewing machines, spools of thread, and fabric.
They are humble items, but they helped launch a vocational school in Callabasse, Haiti.
The construction of the school had been completed, but nobody was using it when Chris Cox, a Lutz resident, was in Haiti last year doing some volunteer work.
The school had been started before the catastrophic earthquake struck Haiti in 2010, killing hundreds of thousands of people and displacing more than a million people.
When he saw the empty school, Cox felt compelled to try to start a vocational school there. Since then, Cox founded an organization called Bagay Ki Bon, which in Creole means, “good things.”
And now, The School of Blessings is up and running.
There’s a sewing room where women glide fabric through whirring machines to create canvas bags that can carry computers or tote other items. There’s an English class, too, where students practice English words and phrases — learning the basics of the language.
Cox said his inspiration to launch the vocational school was rooted in Kenya, where he had been on assignment to shoot video of an orphanage. His company, Cox Digital Arts, produces videos for charitable organizations.
In Kenya, he noticed a woman from Great Britain who had started a vocational school to teach people how to grow strawberries.
“I got to talking to some of the women she was impacting and teaching, and I saw the families and how they could provide for themselves. And they couldn’t before,” Cox said. “It was changing a community.”
He was blown away by the difference that program was making to change lives.
The next week, Cox traveled to Haiti to join family and friends doing volunteer work there.
It wasn’t their first time there.
The family has made short-term mission trips since the earthquake struck, said Linda Cox, who is Chris’ mom. They stay at an orphanage called House of Blessings, and The School of Blessings is next door.
In launching the vocational school, Cox said he worked through existing organizations in the area. He identified sewing and English as two classes that could begin to make an immediate difference for residents.
The sewing class prepares students for a trade, and the English classes make them much more marketable, especially in the capital of Port-au-Prince, he said. Cox envisions a day when the vocational school will be self-sustaining, but it’s not there yet.
He credits his mother and other volunteers for helping to bring his vision to life. Cox’s mom went to work, trying to drum up support for the school.
“I sent out hundreds of emails,” Linda Cox said. “I went online and just looked for fabric suppliers.”
One of those communications reached Melissa Helms of Keep Me In Stitches, a company with locations in Tampa. She responded by donating three sewing machines.
The Santa Rosa Quilt Guild stepped up, too. They raised money to purchase thread, Chris Cox said. One member asked a thread company for a discount. The company, Superior Threads, doubled the size of the order — resulting in more than $600 worth of thread for the vocational school.
While the school remains in its infancy, it continues to grow and evolve, Cox said. Initially, the idea was to offer sewing classes, but the effort expanded to include a sewing center to produce canvas computer and tote bags.
The center provides jobs for four seamstresses, he said, and the bags they create are sold to pay their wages, purchase additional materials, and help subsidize the cost of the English classes.
“These women that are producing the bags are expert seamstresses,” Linda Cox said. “They do absolutely beautiful work. They start every workday with a prayer and a song, which just sets the mood. They laugh and they tell stories. They’re just so happy to have a job and to be working with people that they like.
“They’re just filled with such joy. It’s such a moving experience to be part of that.”
The canvas bags can be purchased online, but Cox said he’s also looking for local places, too, that would be willing to stock and sell them.
While contributions are welcome, donations of supplies are a bit problematic because of the costs to get them to Haiti, Cox said. The best way to support the effort is to purchase a bag.
To do that, visit BagayKiBon.com.
Published September 17, 2014
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