Photo credit: Yves Mary 

By Francesca Andre

Thriving Okap was successfully launched on Aug. 14, as one of the first initiatives centered on local entrepreneurship by native capoise, Maritza Boudoir. Hosted in Downtown Okap, the event kicked off with an invigorating panel discussion on female entrepreneurship and empowerment, which was followed by a collaborative exploration of how local entrepreneurs and the Haitian diaspora can help strengthen the regional economy. Maritza Boudoir partnered with Wanda Tima from L’Union Suite to fuel the effort to revitalize their community by gathering several local leaders and influencers, which include Guerline Emmanuel from Belle Vue Tours, Matti Domingue from Zoule Universe, Nadege Fleurimond, Ethma Pierre, Carl Almonacy, David Toussaint, Adrian Duran and Herby Ambroise.

Both Boudoir and Tima strongly believe in changing the narrative of the island by promoting a positive image of their native hometown, Okap. The keynote speaker of the event, Dr. Monalisa Ferrari, also emphasized inclusion and the importance of actively engaging the diaspora in dialogue and in the mission of reconstructing OKAP as a thriving city. Dr. Ferrari applauded Maritza and Wanda for their leadership in mobilizing and empowering others to “walk the talk” in pursuit of a Thriving OKAP and global recognition that Haiti is primed for business.

Thriving OKAP’s focus is on expanding local entrepreneurship and partnership with the Diaspora. Please explain your vision and expectations with the summit

Maritza: Thriving Okap is  an annual summit that offers  healthy discussions and conversations on  issues related to the welfare of Okap’s community. Through these different gatherings with the community and the diaspora, we are hoping to find solutions to some of the persisting problems that we currently face as a community. The past 2 years, my commitment and focus has been primarily on Cap Haïtien.  The city is full of growing potential and it’s truly an opportunity and obligation for us as a people to explore these possibilities, come up with viable and sustainable projects so we can thrive together.

There’s not a lack of brilliant ideas when it comes to Haiti, what are the risks and challenges you anticipate with Thriving OKAP  ie longevity ?

Wanda: The biggest risk is to not do anything at all and I think the challenges will depend on whether or not we are consistent. Because there isn’t a lack of brilliant ideas in Haiti, one of the things I pride myself in doing research before starting any initiative. I’ve learned when trying to achieve any goal in Haiti, it is important to build a rapport with the people who will aid the project and the people who we plan on benefiting. Walk in with an understanding that the only way to achieve our goals and have longevity, we will need to make sure we walk in with more solutions than problems and work with people whose goals are aligned with ours and people share our passion to assist Okap in thriving.

What’s your take on Okap’s local economy?

Maritza: Throughout Haiti, the government is and remains the largest employer – This is a model that needs to change in order to promote economic development. Okap is the second largest city in Haiti and is considered the silicon valley with endless opportunities. We need to streamline these opportunities and challenges and come up with strategic solutions that will promote local entrepreneurship, decentralization of the government, full integration of the diaspora and a model that educates, informs and empowers.

As a beauty and fashion expert, what’s your take on Colorism in Haiti? What are some of the ways we can tackle this issue? Both

Maritza: Colorism is a global issue and Haiti is not exempt. In order to fully understand the negative impact of colorism in Haiti, we also need to discuss slavery, colonization and the current socio-economic power structure. The idea that light skinned is better is prevalent through the different images that we constantly convey or fed as a people- Music videos, AD , billboards and the common practice of  skin bleaching. With Boudoir House and Kabo Fest, my mission is to help all men and women embrace their beauty, build their self esteem and heal the ills of colorism. Black is beautiful! All shades and hues are beautiful and deserve to be equally celebrated.

How can OKAP be a leader in the beauty and fashion industry as well as promoting empowerment for young girls and women in Haiti?

Wanda: I think it is very important to have Haitian women from various backgrounds and professional field assist us in empowering our girls. Young and teenage girls in Haiti are a particularly vulnerable group. Gender and age discrimination marginalizes and excludes many young and teenage girls from accessing opportunities, services and benefits. I’ve had conversations with girls who explain they aren’t allowed to have cell phones while their brothers and other members of their families have cell phones, they aren’t allowed to wear make-up because in some areas it’s perceived as being promiscuous. Investing in our girls is one of the smartest things we can do to promote a healthier, more prosperous Haiti. Every girl has the right to be in charge of her future and her fate, and these young women need to see more Haitian women in leadership positions and encouraged to be smart and see themselves represented that way.

Social media is very important, and L’union suite has been a prominent leader in helping the diaspora connecting with Haiti in terms of arts, culture ,education and Business- in what ways will you be using your platform to promote OKAP?

Wanda: L’union Suite was created to bridge the gap between Haiti and the Haitian Diaspora so we will simply continue doing what we’ve always done with a focus on Cap-Haitien. The technological advances in recent years have given us new ways to connect to others in our communities and across the world so we hope to use these technologies to bring people closer with more panel discussions, interviews and providing information which will make it easier to access information from various sectors in Okap. We are currently averaging over 10 million people reached a week from all over the world, it makes sense to show a broader view of Haiti and the various cities in Haiti.

Re-imaging OKAP is one of the panels at Thriving OKAP- How do you as an influencer re-imagine OKAP?  

Maritza: A thriving economy with a decentralized government,  strong, structured local leadership, healthy intersectional partnerships and ongoing conversations that will take the country from aid to trade.

You are both from OKAP, why is it important for the two of you to join forces to launch and bring awareness to this great initiative? 

Maritza:  We can’t have a thriving Okap if collaborations are not fostered. Putting our resources together ensures a greater impact. Too often we work in silos, which weaken the results and impact we are trying to achieve. So having L’union Suite as a media partner to bring awareness to this panel was the first step in many more successful collaborations with young , entrepreneurs and leaders from Cap Haitien.  

Wanda: As a Capoise, I think it’s even more important for us to put our efforts together to give back to Cap-Haitien. Maritza and I share two completely stories and backgrounds but we have one very important thing in common, we are very passionate about seeing change in our hometown. Our unique ideas, passion and ability to bring people together serves as an important strength in achieving growth and actually making an impact. We hope our relationship will assist in building a team of influencers that would be fruitful in changing the dynamic of how Cap-Haitien is seen, explored and treated, while giving other entrepreneurs a platform to share their ideas and start seeing the possibility of implementing them.

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