Q+A with Meri Barnes and Amy Brown
For nearly a year, Project Medishare has had the pleasure of working with the wonderful ladies of The Shop Forward and Espwa. Founded in 2014, The Shop Forward is an online store selling clothing and accessories, which gives back to multiple non-profit organizations across the globe. They’ve donated to organizations that support animal welfare, disaster relief, education programs, female empowerment, cancer research, and more. Espwa, one of the brands selling items on the website, is currently featuring Project Medishare as one of their beneficiaries. You can shop the collection here.
Meri Barnes and Amy Brown, the creators of these two brands, respectively, were gracious enough to answer a few questions for us. Read on to learn more about how these incredible ladies are making a real difference in Haiti.
What motivated you to create The Shop Forward?
Meri: I have a background in fashion and clothing working for Marc Jacobs in New York for 7 years, and I’ve always been involved in charities volunteering and wanting to give back. When I was at Marc Jacobs we did a couple t-shirts that had different causes built in to raise funds for charities. Those were always my favorite projects to work on, and it triggered the idea early on for me as a way to combine my love of fashion and philanthropy.
I love that we can offer people unique and quality products that each have a donation built in, so our customers can be a part of giving back and join in on a bigger movement that is able to create legitimate positive change that is so much bigger than one individual.
What motivated you to create Espwa?
Amy: We both have hearts for Haiti. When the orphanage my kids were living at had some financial troubles we decided to sell a women’s tee with the word ‘espwa’ on it with the definition. (It means ‘hope’ in Haitian Creole) to send some support to them. We decided to go with the word espwa because I have it tattooed on my wrist. I got it during my 5 year adoption process to remind me to keep hope that our kids would be with us one day. So it all started with a tattoo, a t-shirt and two girls that love Haiti.
Describe your first trip to Haiti. What were your expectations? How did they compare to what you saw?
Amy: The main reason for my first trip down there was for a women’s conference. I left there with all the respect in the world for those women. They are the backbone of that country. They work so hard. They are so smart. And they give the best hugs! I wasn’t expecting to like the food at all, but we now regularly have Haitian night at our house and I’m all about the rice, the bean sauce, the fried plantains and the pikliz. We have a Haitian friend that lives in Nashville and comes over to cook because my daughter has informed me that I just don’t have the skills to cook like a real Haitian…and I agree.
Meri: I first went to Haiti with Amy in 2013 and I loved Haiti immediately. I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect _ – I’d traveled to Kenya in the past and ignorantly expected it to be similar, but found it to be very different. I was definitely heartbroken seeing the poverty & devastation from the earthquake still, but I was so overwhelmed by the positive spirit of so many Haitians I met. I just fell in love with the people in Haiti. I also was surprised just how beautiful the country of Haiti is, with the mountains and beaches, I wasn’t expecting that. I also saw so many needs and ways that we could help.
Amy, why did you choose to adopt your children from Haiti?
Amy: We were originally doing a domestic new-born adoption here in the United States. That process was taking forever and I’m glad it did because during that time I took my first trip to Haiti and saw that a lot of the older kids at the particular orphanage I was at were not matched. I went home and started talking to my husband about it and we realized that we didn’t have to have a baby, we were open to older children. By the time our kids officially joined our family our son was 7 and our daughter was 10, and we didn’t have to change a single diaper…pretty awesome!
What aspect of Project Medishare’s programs motivated you to select us as a beneficiary?
Meri: Amy and I both had heard such great things about Project Medishare and the extensive impact you have made throughout Haiti – what an amazing reputation! We specifically wanted to help with the maternity centers at first after learning about the importance of giving safer births in rural Haiti. Haiti’s maternal and infant mortality rates were shocking to us and we love that Project Medishare is providing women access to quality maternal health services. All women should be able to deliver their babies in safe, caring environments and we are so impressed with Project Medishare’s work to make that a reality in Haiti and knew our awesome community would want to help.
Amy: We are passionate about ending the orphan cycle, so we were first drawn to the work that is being done at the maternity centers. Equipping moms so they can be healthy during pregnancy and the birth is a major step in keeping families together. It’s an honor to come alongside groups that have made that part of their mission.
What is one thing you wish people knew about Haiti?
Meri: While Haiti is in an extremely rough, unstable period right now I hope people know what a beautiful place it is with the most amazing and resilient people. Our ESPWA® line means HOPE in Haitian Creole, and we truly have so much hope for Haiti based on the spirit of the Haitian people!
Amy: The JOY that is found there. I want to bottle up pure Haitian joy and keep it with me at all times.
We are so grateful to be working with these two amazing women. To date, their initiative has raised more than $260,000 for Project Medishare. Amy and Meri, you are both making a real difference in Haiti, and we are endlessly grateful for your generosity.