Fashion Designer Dayanne Danier Is Going for the Greater Good
Fashion designer Dayanne Danier is known for her chic women’s fashion line Bien Abyé. But she’s always wanted to intersect it with philanthropic activities. Enter her non-profit organization Fleur De Vie, which when translated means Flower of Life. The organization’s name is very telling of its work in Haiti. It strives to help young women to dare to dream of bigger and better things.
How did the idea for Fleur De Vie take shape? The idea of Fleur De Vie came from a number of influential moments in my life. After watching Oprah’s first Christmas in Africa special, I was inspired to reach out to my own community in a similar way which led to first sponsoring a number of children in Haiti. Later, I felt that writing checks to an organization was not enough. I really wanted to get reconnected with Haiti directly. So I traveled to Haiti for the first time in 25 years in July of 2009. I had such a remarkable and emotional trip that all I wanted to do was schedule a return trip immediately. I didn’t realize that coming back would be that soon, but when the earthquake took place, it did not just crush Haiti, it crushed my heart. My aunt told me about the MEVA school and how they lost their building and the children were suffering emotionally. So Jenny Batista—the cofounder—and I decided we would go spend a week with the children. After spending a week and seeing how they had no dreams for their future, we knew at that point, we had to do something. I remember it like it was yesterday; I sat on the balcony of my uncle’s house and told him I wanted to start Fleur De Vie. Jenny was right there with me and said “and I want to help you.”
What are some of the must-hit goals that you have for the organization? Some of the must hit goals are to promote sustainability, to be transparent to our donors, and to assist those who need help in a way that will effect positive change in their life.
In terms of the response you have gotten, what’s the general reaction towards Fleur De Vie? Overall, the general response we have received has been very positive. Our donors are very happy that they are helping effect an individual’s life and that they can visually see that what we say we are going to do, we actual do. Our volunteers in Haiti are so happy that many of them ask when the next program is scheduled. They like the idea of being a part of something positive, they want change as well. The volunteers that come from the United States welcome the opportunity to not only volunteer on the ground in Haiti, but see a different side of the island and culture that is not often portrayed in the media. The recipients of our aid are extremely pleased because the types of projects allow their students to have a different experience in their life which they might not ever have.
You are also the mastermind behind your own fashion line Bien Abyé. Is it hard being an in-demand designer, and one who is so heavenly involved in philanthropy? This is extremely hard. Time management is a must in such a situation. I have to admit, Bien Abyé took a slight back seat to Fleur De Vie in its first conception year. Planning an event internationally is not easy and I found myself traveling back to Haiti quite often, that I now can’t stress enough the need to build partners on the ground. At the same time, the theory of giving back is very important to me as an individual. It is something my parents taught me ever since I was young. My parents came to the United States because they wanted a better life for their future family. I have a strong passion about wanting to complete that circle and say thank you by giving back to the place that made my parents. I hope I can find diaspora who feel the same way and want to join Fleur De Vie on this mission.
Fleur De vie has a great many events and activities and projects to help it achieve its goals. Can you please discuss them? Sure, in the past we have done so much, usually reaching out to children. The first project of the official organization was the Back To School Recreational Day event in September. This project was focused on preparing children for the upcoming school year while getting them excited about education. We took 500 children to a huge open field, thanks to Fabrice Rouzier who was open to us using Sun Auto, and had a day filled with fun activities, music, and food. We also incorporated a health awareness aspect with basic screening and dental care promotion. It was like an education party! The day ended with every child getting a new backpack which contained school supplies. The children and volunteers had such a good time. We can’t wait to do it again this year. December of last year, we returned in collaboration with the Consul General of Haiti New York office and did a True Noel Day. Again, we reached out to 500 children from 5 different schools/organizations and spent a day at each organization doing arts and crafts activities, sang Christmas carols, and gave them each a gift from Santa. That week really made the holidays something special to these children and to the team.
The focus of Fleur De Vie is to promote positive change mostly through educating communities on all topics that can help improve their lives. At the same time, when you see a child’s face light up just because we made them feel special from a small activity, all the hard work to make these programs happen are so worth it. For [this year], we have repeat activities planned and some new ones as well. Overall, we try to do better and better each year to promote positive change. So that just means the projects will get better and better each year!
What would you say is the organization’s greatest need, or needs rather? There are two greatest needs of the organization and the most important, is volunteers! The reason I say that is because of the strong need for positive reinforcement in the lives of the people. As you see, our numbers are not small and we want it to only grow bigger as far as people we connect with. But we can’t do it by ourselves. The more people willing to travel with us will create a bigger impact in Haiti. It is all about numbers working together for a greater cause.
Also, of course, donations. One of the things we try to do the most is buy supplies on the ground in Haiti. It helps support the local economy and also cuts cost on shipping. The schools and organizations we work with are really in dire need of help. I will never forget the time I went to visit one of our schools, the conditions of the benches literally brought me to tears. I was so embarrassed talking to the principal with tears coming down my eyes, at the same time I could not believe the conditions these children where learning in. It just broke my heart. And just when I thought it was an isolated issue, we returned in December to go to one school in Mirebalais where the benches were no wider than seven inches and the material was just untreated, rotten wood. These images drive me insane and I wish we could do more. When these schools say, “Thank you so much” for just a backpack or arts and crafts activities, I feel so sad because to me, I wish we could do more. One day, I hope Fleur De Vie receives enough funding to cover the back to school activities and the hardware needs for some of these schools. If we want to effect positive change, we first have to change the way the population learns in their foundation years and that means helping schools with children.
Volunteers are without a doubt huge contributors to the organization. Oh yes, of course! We like to have volunteers for a number of reasons. Number one, it promotes transparency. With so much bad press surrounding where funding to Haiti goes, it is very important to have volunteers see the proof in our work and the size of our projects. It is also a great way to connect the world to Haiti. We like to promote both Haitian diaspora and non-Haitian people to join us because we want the world to see a different face of Haiti. Many people are interested in going to Haiti, but they hesitate to travel on their own. This way, they travel in a group, get to see numerous sides of the culture, and reach out to the Haitian community directly. We also love to get the volunteers who are on the ground in Haiti. They are so eager to help their country in a positive way, that they are usually the first people to contact us and say, “What is next for Fleur De Vie?” There is a positive energy over Haiti. People just need to get on the right path and work together for the change that is needed. With the right volunteers, this can all happen.
What are your future plans to add more buds to Fleur De Vie? I love this question! It can be viewed in so many different ways. I will first say the buds can be compared to the different project. So for [this year], we are adding a few new projects to our list which are very important. One is donating Reading Centers to school. Many of the schools in Haiti don’t have a library or books for children to read for pleasure. And with literacy rates so low, Fleur De Vie will like to promote reading by donating a center directly to school. Also, we are brainstorming on a “Tools of The Trade” classes for young adults because education is important at all levels. So any knowledge we can give to the community that can help better someone’s life is important. I am also trying to come up with a program that does outreach to young adult women. The lack of role models that show the young girls to “use your brain not your body” drives me bananas and I would really like to do an event geared to young woman. I haven’t come up with anything yet, and this is news to my board as we speak. [Laughter] But it is so needed and I will not rest until I come up with something.
The artist in me comes up with some really creative programs so hopefully whatever it is will make an impact. I am very fortunate to have a strong board of individuals who share the same drive as me and who is usually in agreement to my crazy ideas. For that, I am truly blessed! The other way to refer to the “buds” is through volunteers. And for that we are always open to accepting new volunteers to join us on our trips to Haiti.
You can check out the Fleur De Vie website HERE to see how you can help with its initiatives.