SIOUX CENTER—Most people go on vacation to relax and enjoy other parts of the world. Julie Hulstein, CEO of Vi Bella, went on a mission trip with the some of the same ideas, but came back to the United States with a burden and a vision.
Hulstein, after seeing the extreme poverty on a trip to Haiti, said decided she could either feed a few people or teach those few people “how” to fish and to become sustainable. In essence, she provided a small workforce for the Haitian people who have learned to make jewelry that is sold in an international marketplace.
Vi Bella Jewelry was created because of how it translated into English, “beautiful life,” but the definition is apropos for the work this corporation does and for the difference it has made in the lives of many Haitian people.
“We started Vi Bella in June 2011 with just an idea,” Hulstein said. “It was just a tiny little business. We had no idea it would become anything like this.
It was an idea to help people in Haiti get jobs so that they could keep their families together and not give their kids to orphanages.”
In Haiti, many of the orphanages are filled to capacity and 80 percent of the orphans have biological parents, but due to financial hardships, they surrender those children to live as orphans.
Most of the jewelry is handmade in Haiti and Vi Bella has 60 people working full time. Only one of those is American.
“They are employed and have good jobs,” Hulstein said. “Most of them are in Haiti and we have some workers in Mexico as well. We have two work centers in Haiti and one work center in Mexico.”
Hulstein said the vision for Vi Bella is that God has a beautiful life planned for everyone.
“Some people need a little help, and we need to help each other so we can walk into that beautiful life,” Hulstein said. “We aren’t all dealt the same cards.”
Hulstein had retired from a 27-year teaching career in the Sioux County area so that she could spend a bit more time with her family and the grandchildren before her 2010 trip to Haiti.
She didn’t have any idea the scope of the vision God was putting on her plate.
“I retired early and was just going to be a full-time grandma,” Hulstein said. “I then went on a mission trip to Haiti and was totally blown away.
“I’d never seen anything like this. The poverty was unspeakable.”
That trip was taken in June 2010 during which she saw the devastation that had been caused Jan. 12, 2010, by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake that hit about 15 miles from the nation’s capitol of Port-au-Prince.
Hulstein said even worse than the damage inflicted by the earthquake was that Haiti suffered from rampant poverty, which had been around for many years.
“I went home just really praying about jobs for Haitians,” Hulstein said. “So, a year later, this idea was born and we came back and started this little company.
“We found buildings we could work in and local managers for the groups of people that would work for Vi Bella.
“Then those managers helped us navigate the differences in culture and how to pay people correctly and fairly.”
On Feb. 1, Vi Bella held the first of what Hulstein hopes will be a monthly open house where the Haitian-made products can be viewed and purchased in Sioux Center. The open houses will be held at Hulstein’s residence at 1503 Sunrise Circle, Sioux Center, where rooms are set up as a type of home-style boutique.
Each month the inventory will change and local people will get the option to shop in an actual retail setting as opposed to ordering online