My Oma and me—building bridges with art
On my first visit to Ramon St. Hilaire’s workshop, in a narrow alley in downtown Port-au-Prince, Haiti, I remember it smelled of fragrant, fresh-cut wood. Sawdust sparkled in the tropical air. Outside, stacks of wood from the obeche tree cured in the sun, waiting to be shaped into elegant bowls. During this visit, St. Hilaire showed me a newly sanded platter. I took it and turned it over in my hands, feeling something familiar in the smoothness of its form.
I had held a nearly identical platter, mahogany with a time-worn patina, just before departing for my MCC service in Haiti in 2016. My Oma, Lois Kreider, had shown it to me, explaining that my Opa, Robert Kreider, had visited MCC’s first projects in Haiti in 1962 and had made a stop in Port-au-Prince to visit a cottage industry of woodworkers.
Impressed with the quality of their work, he packed a suitcase of the mahogany pieces to show both my Oma and Edna Ruth Byler. They were involved with a fledgling MCC project that became today’s fair trade organization, Ten Thousand Villages (MCC Canada's fair trade social enterprise) which sells handmade goods from all over the world.
Holding St. Hilaire’s platter in my hands, I thought of Oma, who travelled the world working with artisans. Through her work, Oma was a bridge between those artisans and customers in Canada and the U.S. Her legacy is thousands of connections, linking people and cultures through the exchange of handmade goods. This same desire to support these meaningful global connections motivated me to work with artisans in Haiti.