Makilene was an unemployed mother of six and living in extreme poverty in Haiti. She realized over time that she could no longer care for all her children, so she faced the heartbreaking decision to give up her youngest child and took her child and traveled to Port-Au-Prince. She had heard about a woman named Shelley Clay who helps children.
Makilene thought she was knocking on the door of an orphanage for her infant daughter when she arrived in Port-Au-Prince, but a very different opportunity awaited her — one with hope and a future for herself and her family. After spending a few days getting to know her, Shelley encouraged Makilene to go home and return to the city with all of her children.
Shelley owns and operates Papillon Enterprises, which provides income-generating opportunities for women through handcrafted jewelry. Makilene now works for Papillon as a jewelry maker.
Papillon is one of several small businesses that partner with The GO Exchange, a global boutique selling handcrafted jewelry and clothing. However, The GO Exchange is more than a unique global business — selling both online and through their Ambassador Program — it is a vision for the future of preventing orphanhood.
The GO Exchange was originally birthed by The Global Orphan Project as a way to focus on prevention of orphanhood, not just orphan care. “We discovered that so many children who are in the world’s orphanages and alleyways are economic orphans,” says Joe Knittig, CEO of The Global Orphan Project. “They are often children of single mothers who love them, but because of economic pressures feel compelled to give up their children.”
By partnering with small business enterprises like Papillon, The GO Exchange is able to directly support families and help keep them together — strengthening them by helping provide jobs for the mothers and a hope for the future. However, The GO Exchange is providing more than jobs to sustain families. Caregivers are empowered as their work strengthens the economy of communities. It gives these families a sense of dignity because mothers are able to care for their own children with the work of their hands.
By being able to support their own families, the women are empowered and their families can stay together. “These women and their children among the extreme poor are beautiful, powerful, and in my view, anointed to catalyze a new revival from a grassroots level,” says Knittig. “We are able to offer them help. But they also have much to offer us. The GO Exchange is merely one conduit through which a connection is made for this great exchange. We facilitate a connection through beauty in the marketplace. Through this connection, change happens. Perspectives change. Families change. Communities change.”
Mothers like Makilene can find a new life in which they are able to provide for their families using their own skills. Makilene now lives in Port-Au-Prince with all her children and cares for herself and her family because of her work with Papillon. In alignment with Faith to Action’s strategy to strengthen the ability of caregivers and youth to earn livelihoods, the long-term partnership she has formed with Papillon Enterprises and The GO Exchange has contributed to sustainable change in her life, in the lives of women like her, and in their communities. She was given more than a job selling jewelry for a global boutique. She was given a new life and an opportunity to keep her family together.
The GO Exchange is not just another “do good” company. Today they feature products made in Haiti and Uganda, although they hope to expand in the future to partner with those who are like-minded in their business approach. “We are looking for partners who truly and authentically go deep into the mission of family preservation, not a desire to market better in the United States,” says Knittig. Before committing to potential expansions, they lead first with their vision — to strengthen families and prevent the poverty that is a main driver separating children from their families.
In our world, so many families are falling apart, and these are the basic building blocks of civilization. By focusing on strengthening families, the communities are able to grow as well. The GO Exchange is a company utilizing economic opportunity to strengthen families and communities with dignity, empowerment, and hope, not only for the present, but for their futures.