Recently, Urban Zen had a fantastic opportunity to connect and collaborate with Patti Hansen and Patricia Arquette to distribute survival bags to women living in tent camps in Haiti. The project was borne out of an inspired conversation that our founder, Donna Karan, had with her long-time friend Patti Hansen. Patti and Molly Madden recently launched a new collection of bags called, “Hung on U,” and Donna immediately thought of Haiti. A few conversations later, the idea of the Survival Bags came into being. Patti provided the bags and Patricia Arquette distributed them to the women she works with through her GiveLove Foundation in Haiti.
The beautiful bags were filled with the essential items needed most by the women living under the difficult circumstance of tent life including: underwear, Medika Mamba Plumpy’nut nutrition bars, a poncho, a pair of flip flops, a whistle, a flashlight and purified water tablets.
We had the opportunity to catch up with Patricia Arquette who distributed the bags. We chatted with her about all things Haiti and the experience of giving love by giving out the survival bags.
Here, we share our conversation to you:
Urban Zen: Can you tell us a little bit about the work you’re doing in Haiti?
Patricia Arquette: GiveLove started working in Haiti right after the earthquake in one of the largest tent camps in Citi Soleil. We realized right away that the lack of sanitation was a public health disaster. After learning more about Haiti, it became obvious to us that the lack of sanitation was a systemic problem even before the earthquake and 80% of the rural people had no clean water or toilets. Only the wealthiest people in Port-au-Prince have access to adequate sanitation. We couldn’t turn away from the fact that poor sanitation causes more deaths than HIV and malaria combined, and sadly diseases like cholera kill children and the elderly who are most vulnerable to infection. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be consumed with finding affordable sanitation solutions for the poorest people or have to understand pathogen death rates. The system that we’ve chosen to implement in Haiti is called thermophilic composting, and it’s a very simple and easy way to completely sanitize waste and convert it into compost that can be used for agriculture and reforest Haiti.
UZ: Why did you want to get involved in Haiti?
PA: A friend of mine was a first responder and although I had supported large charities before, she demanded that I personally go down and see for myself how I could help.
UZ: How and when did you and Donna first connect?
PA: Of course, I’ve respected her as an artist and incredible designer for years. As an actress you would think that’s how we knew each other. But, I actually really got to know her through our mutual love for Haiti and its people. Donna is so active in Haiti and she’s there all the time and we have mutual friends. People on the ground have been so grateful for what Donna has done for artisans, manufacturing and job creation. She’s a formidable force and a real catalyst for change.
UZ: What was the intention with the survival bags?
PA: My manager Molly Madden Lang, and Patti Hansen started a handbag line called Hung On You. Patti helped send a lot of planes over with supplies immediately after the earthquake and Molly and I have been brainstorming how they could help more women in tent camps. They partnered with Donna and Urban Zen to fill the survival bags with water purification tablets, flip flops, and solar lights that are incredibly important for personal security at night. So we were happy to partner with them.
UZ: What was it like distributing them?
PA: We have been partnering with a great Yogic organization called AmurtHaiti that built a school for a tent camp with over 17,000 people. They take a very holistic approach to their work and teach yoga, gardening, music, karate, and art. They care about the whole being and if I lived in Haiti I would send my kids there. We helped set up their compost toilets and taught them how to manage compost in their gardens. It’s becoming a permanent community and it’s like no other place in Haiti
UZ: How did people receive them? What was the energy like?
PA: We distributed them on the second anniversary of the earthquake. We decided to distribute them to the children at the school. These families have been living in camps for two solid years and it was nice to show them that they are not forgotten.
They were especially excited and got to learn about the solar lights and solar power. It became an impromptu science lesson and there was a lot of laughter and smiles.
UZ: How would you encourage others to get involved?
PA: I tell people to search their own heart and find programs they can believe in. Cynicism is a poison of the spirit.
UZ: What advice would you most like to share with the Urban Zen community?
PA: Love yourself, Love others, and Act with Integrity. I just spent time in the Middle East, and there’s the Occupy Wall Street Movement. There is so much conflict in the world. Haiti is the only place that I have been lately where the people and the government seem determined to work together for progress and prosperity.