Written by: Jesse Abelson on June 1st, 2017
This week I started on a summer-long adventure in Haiti that was born from an idea all the way back in September. Back when we came up with this idea, I always imagined myself doing this over the summer, but that was always a theoretical “wouldn’t that be cool if” type of thought. Now that thought has turned into a reality. As I sat there on the plane heading to Haiti, I was surprisingly calm and at peace with whatever is about to happen over the course of the next 3 months. Will my venture succeed? I have no idea. Statistically speaking, odds are that it won’t. But I’ve also never been one to care about what the odds are. I’ve also learned that there is no point in being afraid to fail. If I was afraid to fail, I would never have taken this risk. So only time will tell whether this pilot will succeed. No matter the outcome, this has been an incredible journey for me already. Even though this is my first week in Haiti, I have learned so much over the past 6 months. I have continuously failed with ideas, taken a step back, and ultimately have come out the other side with a better idea. I have learned how valuable failure is and how to “fail forward” as they taught us in our class.
I am incredibly honored to be able to travel to Haiti to pursue this venture. Since I first travelled to Haiti and also began learning about Dr. Paul Farmer (my personal hero), I have dreamed of having the opportunity to start my own organization that works to help bring those in extreme poverty out of their dire situations in a sustainable manner. Never did I think that opportunity would come at the age of 23, with no degree, and no experience starting a business or being part of a business. This is a dream come true for me. A 23-year old with nothing but an idea and a passion trying to do what I can to change the world. Seems crazy because it is crazy. And even if this venture fails, the lessons that I have already learned, and will learn are worth every second I have spent working on this.
My first week in Haiti is pretty relaxing. I’m volunteering at the hospital and trying to get everything in order and organized. It’s so nice to be back in Haiti, and even more amazing to realize that I am not leaving here in a week. The second I arrived at the hospital, a wave of emotion hit me. Suddenly this entire venture turned to a reality and I couldn’t stop smiling. I was so incredibly happy to be back. There’s something about this country that I cannot explain that keeps me coming back. For those of you who know me well enough, you probably understand this. When I left Haiti, a big part of my heart remained there. It may seem a little crazy, but those of you who have been here understand.
For those of you who don’t know what this venture is, I’ll offer a quick explanation. My venture revolves around a tall grass that grows in Haiti called vetiver. Vetiver is currently used for a number of reasons, but the reason we are focusing on is its erosion prevention power. Vetiver is known to be one of the greatest living-plant barriers in the world to prevent erosion. Planted along the croplands of farmers, it can eventually increase crop yields and the fertility of the soil. One issue many farmers face however is that they cannot afford to compromise a portion of their land to plant vetiver because they need the income the crops generate. That is where Vetiver Solutions comes in. By harvesting the shoots of the plant, a renewable resource, we then plan to process the shoots into fibers and ultimately spin it into a yarn or a thread, which can then be sold to other organizations. If we are successful in creating a thread, the profit potential (and the positive environmental impact) for this is unparalleled to any other known use for the grass.
This entire venture would not have gotten even close to this point without the help of countless individuals. First of all, thank you to my friends and family (especially my parents) who have supported me along the way and understood how important this venture is for me. I owe all the credit to my two original group members, Dalton and Leeore, as well as our fourth member, Elizabeth. The countless emails we’ve exchanged and the many nights we’ve stayed up, putting off friends and other homework in order to perfect our plan has finally paid off. To Elizabeth, who came onto this project after we got the funding, but has taken our venture to an entire new level, which would not have been possible otherwise. To the folks at Acara: Fred, Megan, Erin, and everyone else, I am forever grateful for your help along the way and your coaching. I am a huge believer in the work Acara is doing and I can say without a doubt that they Acara has had a huge impact on my life. Leo, who was our mentor for the Acara Challenge, thank you for helping us and having the patience to try to teach 3 pre-med students how to write a business plan. To all the professors and experts we spoke with along the way, thank you for taking the time out of your day to talk with a bunch of college students with nothing but an idea. To the folks at the Weaver’s Guild; Nancy, Wendy, Anne, and others – thank you so much for donating your time to help teach us about thread and spinning. We couldn’t have done it without you. And a huge thank you to Jen Rogers, who has helped us immensely with logistics in Haiti and finding a community to work in. This venture would not have succeeded if it weren’t for the amazing support that has surrounded the venture. And finally, a thank you to everyone who donated to our venture, either financially or with your personal time. We truly appreciate everyone one of you.
Next Thursday I begin my journey to truly begin implementing my venture. I will be out of contact for awhile and will likely only be able to write periodically. I am extremely excited for this opportunity and looking forward to meeting and learning from my new community and family for the next 3 months. I will try to write another update before I leave for the country-side.
If you would like to donate to our venture, visit z.umn.edu/VetiverSolutions