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Mireille Roy teaches woman and children how to sew in Haiti.

The Gift: Creating a sewing program in Haiti

The Reason: To help women learn a trade

When Mireille Roy retired from her administrative job at Ottawa's Saint-Vincent Hospital eight years ago she figured she would relax, read and maybe travel. But then her brother asked her if she wanted to join him and his girlfriend on a trip to Haiti to do some volunteer work.

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"They said to me, 'What about coming to teach people how to sew?" Ms. Roy recalled from her house in Gatineau, Que. "I love sewing, I have always loved sewing."

Although she had never travelled much at all, Ms. Roy agreed to go and she spent two weeks in Haiti that year teaching women to sew. She decided to keep going back. "I loved the women I worked with," she said.

Today Ms. Roy runs two sewing groups, instructing about 50 women on how to make curtains, table cloths, aprons, cotton shopping bags and bedding. The women sell the products for badly needed family income. She also manages a weekly program for about 55 children, offering sewing, woodworking and recreational activities.

This year while working with a Quebec-based charity, La Fondation Les Artisans de Paix Internationale, Ms. Roy has been raising money to build a women's art and trade pavilion to act as a permanent home for the sewing program. She hopes to have it completed in the next few months.

Ms. Roy, 69, travels to Haiti twice a year and spends the rest of her time raising money and keeping up with her two children and four grandchildren. "I thought I was a good person, but I'm better now," she said. "I really am."

pwaldie@globeandmail.com

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