MHS Zanmi Club Supports Women in Haiti

MHS Zanmi Club. Back row, from left: Aidan Reid, Katie Aryeh, Gabi Farrer, Helena Mandeville and Amelia Goudzwaard; front row: Jennifer Gonzalez, Janet Ann Purtell, Gabby Farrer, Erin Muldoon, Kate Nadeau

The Malibu High School Zanmi club is working hard to help some of the poorest women in Haiti through selling their hand-made handcrafts to the local community.

As they enter their fourth year at Malibu High School (MHS), the Zanmi club has been devoting countless hours to the project, organizing semi-annual t-shirt drives, fundraisers and selling the Haitian merchandise in the local Malibu Farmer’s Market.

“The kids have done an incredible job, between gathering materials and, more importantly, selling the baskets after. They are really realizing what they are doing and they are really enthusiastic about it,” Natalie Soloway, Zanmi co-founder, said. Soloway started the organization eight years ago with her friend Heikki Ketola.  

Since the organization was formed, disaster has struck Haiti several times — the devastating 2010 earthquake and, most recently, Hurricane Matthew in October 2016, which destroyed the houses of the women sponsored by the Zanmi club. But these tragedies have not shaken the resolve of the students.

Sponsored by MHS teacher Jennifer Gonzales and led by sophomore club president Amelia Goudzwaard, the Zanmi club focuses on raising money to improve the lives of Haitian women and their families. They collect recycled t-shirts, which are then sent to a group of women in Haiti, who use the t-shirts to create contemporary folk art. The club then sells this art, and are best known for selling the hand-sewn “Zanmi” dolls (which translates to “friend” from Haitian Creole) along with hand-crafted baskets made from scratch.

“The ultimate goal of the project is having the working women there owning and operating their own business,” Soloway explained. “We are just doing what we are doing now to get them going.”

With the help of Project Medishare, the club is able to put together sewing kits for the Haitian women, deliver them to some of the poorest regions in Haiti and teach the women how to create the crafts. 

“Just being able to physically cut out fabric and stuff dolls means making money for the organization and that means the club is physically helping people across the world who need us,” Goudzwaard said.

One hundred percent of the proceeds go directly to aiding the lives of these women and their families. Some of the money is portioned directly to the women and the rest is invested in projects to make their daily lives more livable. The Zanmi club recently used its fundraising to buy stoves for women living in the Central Plateau region who have no electricity and running water. The club is also focusing the money on rebuilding roofs destroyed by the devastating 2010 Haitian earthquake. 

“After the earthquake, you can’t walk away without feeling like you’ve got to do something,” Soloway added while explaining the importance of the project. “These girls [in the club] are so generous with their time and their energy and they are seeing that they’re making a difference in these women’s lives.” 

The club, which is comprised of 10 MHS students, participates in weekly Thursday meetings to discuss how they can help the organization. 

“The club makes me feel like I’m a part of something that is physically making a difference in the lives of women in Haiti and I’m extremely grateful to be the president of such a club with awesome club members who share the same goal as I do. I love being a part of the cause I greatly support with my whole heart,” Goudzwaard said. 

Every week, the Zanmi student members facilitate group discussions and voice their opinions on the areas they want to focus on for the Haitian women. 

“I think it’s really important to make sure everyone in the club has a voice as to putting ideas forward and making sure that everyone gets to say their opinion in Zanmi club,” added Goudzwaard. 

While the efforts of the club members and organization have made a tremendous impact on the Haitian women, Soloway explained that this success of the Zanmi project would not have been possible without the generous Malibu community. The community not only fostered the MHS club but has also been eager to help through direct donations and providing places for the club to sell their merchandise. Malibu locals Grace Dieckhaus and Chantal Gillberg, both of whom have donated their homes for fundraising events, have especially helped aid the cause. 

“Nobody’s just doing one job. Everybody is doing a little of everything. It’s a mutual community effort,” Soloway noted.

What started as Soloway’s efforts to spread the word through small local presentations has since turned into a blossoming organization based in Malibu. 

“It’s been astounding what’s happened in the last few years. I would say [the Zanmi club] is a baby that’s now crawling but we want it to walk on its own,” Soloway stated. “We began with 15 women, which was so successful that the number of women doubled by our second workshop.”

As the Zanmi club and project move forward in their success, they encourage other members of the community to get involved. Something as simple as purchasing a Zanmi doll can make a tremendous impact on each of these women’s lives, as well as the lives of their families and children. The MHS club is open to all Malibu students interested in being a part of the organization. 

For further questions on how to get involved with the Zanmi project, people may contact Soloway or Ketola at their email addresses ( or, or visit their website