Helping hands across the waters

Meg Spokus and Margaret Penicaud
Meg Spokus and Margaret Penicaud at Peacecraft, located in the Daily Grind Café in Vineyard Haven. Photos by Susan Safford

By Eleni Collins - December 7, 2006

Margaret Penicaud planned a trip to Haiti in 1998. She did not want to show up empty-handed to the impoverished country, so she began fund-raising through Peacecraft.

Peacecraft is a worldwide program that helps people in impoverished countries, as well as the United States, sell their handmade crafts through fair trade. Its mission statement is clear: "Helping the poor of the world help themselves."

After her first trip to Haiti, Ms. Penicaud realized she could do much more for the people in the impoverished country. She realized her goal, to help the Haitians provide for themselves, could be tackled in many ways. She continued to raise money on the Vineyard, and returned to Haiti regularly. Soon she had created a tilapia fish farm, which had its first harvest in 2001. By the fall of 2002, she had raised enough money to fund a new school. There are 143 students currently enrolled, and the school is part of a nine-school system run by the Daughters of Mary Queen Immaculate.

Find holiday gifts and help fund necessary programs in third-world countries by purchasing gifts from Peacecraft.

"I went down to Haiti in 1998 and saw the abject poverty and literally prayed, 'what can I do here?' The fish farm project came to me out of the clear blue. We found technical assistance 45 minutes away from where the Sisters live, in Lilavois. Everything just fell into place," says Ms. Penicaud.

With the help of many other volunteers, Ms. Penicaud has raised funds for the Fish Farm for Haiti Project and the school with several annual fund-raising events on the Island.

The Peacecraft sale is underway now at the Daily Grind Café in the Tisbury Market Place. It runs until Dec. 24, Mondays through Saturdays from 11 am to 4 pm.

Peacecraft has been possible with help from many volunteers, including those who made the sign.

Crafts made by indigenous people of Haiti, Kenya, Brazil, and Mexico, among others, are for sale. The proceeds go back to the artisans and help provide educational, medical, and food programs. Favorite items from Haiti available at the cafe are greeting cards designed with banana bark, and chocolate covered Brazil nuts. Jewelry, water glasses, and organic teas are among the other items for sale.

The Fish Farm project also holds an annual summer treasure sale. "It's an upscale yard sale where people donate items like furniture that they know have value, but donate anyway," says Ms. Penicaud. Next year it is scheduled for July 14.

A Haitian art sale takes place at Featherstone Center for the Arts, and all the proceeds go to Haiti. Volunteers are the backbone behind the fund-raising projects, and are currently needed at Peacecraft. If you are interested, call 508-939-9094.

"We have a lot of volunteers and help from the churches. It certainly has been an island to island outreach, one island helping out the other."

To find out more information about Ms. Penicaud's endeavors, visit the Tisbury Public Library, where she has set up a section with information, including newsletters and books, about the projects she is involved with in Haiti.
For more information about the Fish Farm for Haiti project or to volunteer, call Margaret Penicaud at 508-693-0368.