"The oven is the engine..."

"The oven is the engine..."

Sister Katherine ‘Sissy’ Corr built the bakery. She did it with the help of Haitians every step of the way, but still she’s the one who built it. Without her ‘Sister-power’ as the Haitians call it, the bakery would still be only a dark stretch of road. And when a hurricane roared through, knocking down what was built, Sister Sissy built anew. She built so that today Notre Dame Boulangerie is turning out 1,700 loaves of bread morning to night, is employing 18 bakers, is employing 35 sellers, and is set to grow even more. 


So much so that the bakers are asking to sleep on the roof, that they might get an earlier jump on the day. And by earlier, that’s 4 am. And they’re doing it. But again, because Sister Sissy made it possible. She talked with contractors, figured costs, and built a dorm – albeit one on a roof!


Notre Dame Boulangerie is a year and a half old. Money for the oven – the engine of the operation – came from the Sisters, and from you. But while the oven is the engine, the fuel is the initiative of the bakers and sellers. 


The sellers start as early as they can, and hit the streets with the bread still hot. They carry it in baskets atop their heads, or else on their backs. A few have wheelbarrows. By sundown the 1,700 loaves of bread are sold, six cents profit on each. And the six cents? It provides paychecks where before there were none. And the paychecks provide food, clothing, schoolbooks – and dignity. “I am the mother and the father,” says a young bread seller, because her livelihood is supporting her siblings. She pushes a wheelbarrow filled with bread, and is one of the first to arrive, and one of the last to finish.


“The whole goal,” says Sister Sissy, “is to make the bakery independent, to make the bakery theirs.” And they are close. 


Those in the bakery earn between $5 and $10 a day. Sellers are lucky to earn $5. But their futures are in their hands, which was never true before. “They’re setting goals, and hitting them,” says Sister Sissy. “Nobody, nobody wants to leave. This is a job!”


When Sister Sissy arrived in Haiti, she had in mind to educate, to teach, to build schools. But those she met said no, not because it wasn’t a good idea, but because they needed something even more desperately – they needed jobs. And so, after reflection, Sisters Sissy threw her heart – her ‘Sister-power’ – into building Notre Dame Boulangerie, and a business plan, and a plan for hiring workers. She was following the instruction of St. Julie – “to give them what they need for life.” What they need for life in Haiti is education, certainly. But it’s also dignity, and a means through which they can actualize their potential, such as with a job, such as with an enterprise through which by clocking in at 4 in the morning they can build a better future for themselves and their children.


“Their lives are changed,” says Sister Sissy. “All of them. There’s no question.”


But still there are needs. There’s a need for more wheelbarrows for the sellers; for a second delivery van for distribution to another town; and for a motorbike with a cart on the back, which again could carry bread to more distant neighborhoods. The Sisters are working to meet these needs, and many more – and at the same time working to meet the needs for water equipment in Africa, and to address the needs of small farmers in Brazil. They’re working to buy bicycles for Sisters along the border with French Guiana in their efforts to curb the trafficking of women and girls. They’re working to provide emergency assistance to special needs families in Nicaragua.


But in all these things, they need your financial support. Just as with the oven in Haiti, it often only takes seed money, an initial investment, a helping hand – to change the trajectory of so many lives.