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Art Center Jewelers on a Mission to Haiti

Art Center Jewelers on a Mission to Haiti

When Art Center jeweler Ji Hwang mentioned to fellow jeweler Leslie Gordon that she was going to Haiti to show Haitians how to make and sell jewelry, Leslie jumped at the chance.

“I heard Ji talking about going to Haiti during the Studio Holiday Sale in December of last year, and I immediately became interested in going with her,” says Leslie, who met Ji while selling her work at the sale. “I have a lot of experience going to third-world countries, so I know what to expect. I just retired, I love to travel, and this sounded like a great opportunity to help other people in need.”

Both Art Center jewelers will be in Haiti from February 16-23.

Through her connections with the non-profit organization, Ji has made two previous trips to Haiti to help people in the area of Canaan build a classroom, set up a storybook project, make wedding rings (with Metalwerx in Waltham, Mass.), and engage in cooking classes.

“Helping people in such dire need is a charitable experience that you really can’t compare to anything else,” she says. “When you actually get to know the people there, you form a connection that is very rewarding.”

According to the most recent statistics from the World Bank, Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas, with more than 6 million of the 11 million population living below the Haitian national poverty line (the US equivalent of only $2.41 per day), and more than 2.5 million below the extreme poverty line. Additionally, the government is still not highly functional, and clean running water and electricity are scarce, especially following a devastating earthquake in 2010 that resulted in the deaths of more than 230,000 people.

“They’ve been through all of these terrible hardships, and they still have so much joy,” says Ji. “One of the reasons for this is that they come together as a community and help one another. They are also very welcoming to people from organizations like who teach them how to be more self-sufficient.”

Leslie and Ji say the hope is to teach residents of Canaan how to make beaded jewelry, and then sell it or trade it for other goods. Users of the Jewelry Studio have donated dozens of bags full of beads, stringing materials, pliers, tweezers and bead boards. Items such as reading and magnifying glasses are still needed.

“The Jewelry and Metals Open Studio has a great community and we all support each other,” says fellow jeweler and Palo Alto Art Center Foundation board member Barbara Carman. “This is taking the next step to take it outside and share the love of what we do while helping people who are less fortunate.”

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Last Updated: January 29, 2019