Bèl Rèv is Finally in Sight

Bèl Rèv is Finally in Sight

Thursday, September 8, 2016 - 10:30am


Blue Marble Dreams Founder, Alexis Gallivan, Guest Blogging for NRG Power Persepectives: 

Our journey began nearly three years ago, when I met with Lionel Bernard, Executive Director of Haiti 155, to discuss our respective work and ideas.  Within minutes, we decided to join forces and build Bèl Rèv (“Sweet Dreams” in Haitian Creole). Well beyond “just” an ice cream shop, Lionel and I envisioned Bèl Rèv as an innovative social enterprise that would fuel the empowerment, development and recovery of the Fontamara community in Port au Prince, Haiti.  It would achieve this by 1) creating wholesome, sustainable jobs for women, 2) stimulating local agriculture and commerce by increasing demand for farmers and suppliers, 3) providing a safe, vibrant space for community members to connect and revive and, finally, 4) inspiring further positive business development in this underserved area.

We understood that bringing this sweet dream to life would not be easy, particularly given Haiti’s challenging political and infrastructural landscape, and we couldn’t do this on our own.  Strong and creative partnerships, therefore, would be vital to our success. 

NRG Energy was among the first partners to sign on and has been one of our most valued allies ever since.  What began with a relatively simple request for solar panels evolved into a much bigger, more brilliant collaboration, and we quickly realized that our friends at NRG were big dreamers, just like us.  Through both their charitable involvements and their business operations, they, too, push for meaningful change that makes lives better and brighter. 

In one of our earliest conversations with NRG, we mentioned that we were considering constructing the shop from reclaimed shipping containers.  This was both an extension of our eco-Brooklyn sensibilities and also a nod to the industrial nature of Port au Prince.  Our friends at NRG jumped on the idea, and within days, we were connected to the ingenious leaders of Metalab Studio and Mobile Grid – a design and engineering duo highly experienced in solar technology – down in Houston, TX.  Shortly after, we watched in awe as they translated our ideas into technical plans and blended function and beauty in ways we could never have imagined.   

Before the construction could begin, of course, we needed the actual containers.  NRG called on its friends at Malark Logistics, who generously stepped forward with the donation and transport of four containers – three for the shop structure (20’) and one (40’) for storage/transport. 

The transformation that ensued was truly a team effort.  Our partners in Houston engaged a range of local metalworkers, carpenters, signage printers and other professionals to help out.  They also scoured second-hand restaurant equipment warehouses to source needed materials for our lighting, cabinetry and countertops.  NRG dispatched a team of technical advisors and project managers to facilitate the energy component of the build-out, which included the construction of a 30’+ solar panel rack and the installation of our very own microgrid, the whole of which would limit our reliance on the (very unreliable) local power supply.

Outside of our work with NRG, Lionel and I worked feverishly to push this unique project forward.  We wrote numerous grant proposals, hosted special events and ran online campaigns to raise the funds needed for project expenses (a process that continues today).  We designed and led intensive Creole-language business trainings for Bèl Rèv’s future staff, which we’ve selected from the membership of Kofaviv, a Haitian NGO dedicated to supporting victims of sexual violence.  We visited mango farms, dairy processing centers and cocoa plantations to line up our suppliers and start calculating costs.  We oversaw extensive construction work on the site, including improved sewage lines, repairs to perimeter walls and a new concrete foundation.  We conducted extensive outreach within our community to determine what kinds of products and services would be most valuable to them.  We liaised with the NGO community in Haiti to explore potential partnerships and build our local network.  And last but most definitely not least, we traversed the long, serpentine, and often maddening process of securing our required documents from the Haitian government.

While the construction was completed nearly one year ago, it was this paperwork process that prevented us from advancing to the next stage of the project as quickly as everyone hoped.  Although we had experienced attorneys, customs agents, government insiders, a host of influential individuals and numerous community supporters working on our behalf, the general lack of clarity and organization within the government combined with the political instability of the last several months proved to be a monstrous hurdle to cross.

Truth be told, this experience was exhausting and painful.  There were many moments where we felt failure might be inevitable.  But, we did not – could not – give up.  We owed it to our partners, like NRG, who had invested so much in our success, and we owed it to the women, families and farmers in Haiti who needed us to deliver on our promise. 

With an extra push from another of our incredible partners, we were able to finally move forward.  At that point, we set in motion the process of transporting the containers from Houston over land and sea to Port au Prince, wrestling them through customs and finally delivering them to Fontamara.  I could devote many paragraphs and tears to relaying the story of this process but will simply share that it involved many dramatic moments and opportunities to build character through adversity.  It also involved our friends, including NRG, who did all they could to help us work through the immense challenges we encountered along the way.

The good – no, AMAZING – news is that just a few weeks ago, our precious ice cream shop completed its perilous voyage and was brought home at long last.  Lionel was on hand to manage this complicated process and described the community’s reaction as ecstatic and full of pride.  Each of the containers was set in place just right, and they are now eagerly awaiting being brought to life.  We still have a stretch of hill to climb before opening day, but the steepest portion is surely behind us.  In the weeks ahead, we will be completing the construction, developing our menu, training our staff in the space and in other ways preparing to launch and sustain Bèl Rèv. 

Lionel and I are profoundly grateful to our many friends at NRG for believing in us and devoting so much joy and ingenuity to our work together.  We will keep you posted as we inch towards opening day and look forward to celebrating with some ice cream.

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Alexis & Jennie, friends and co-founders of Blue Marble Ice Cream - NYC's only purveyor of certified organic ice cream. Welcome! Did you know that Blue Marble is also the nickname for planet Earth?...

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