Shellie Santiago is a mother of two in eastern Pennsylvania who has a found a way to sponsor children in restavek through her artwork. Her home church has partnered with Restavek Freedom for years through short-term vision trips and relief aid, and she was looking for a way to get involved. When Restavek Freedom Executive Director Joan Conn and her family visited Life Church in the fall of 2016, their heart for the people of Haiti and their call for action on behalf of Christians struck a nerve with Shellie. It was in that service that she felt inspired with the name Lettering for Freedom. She said explained she wanted to use her art in some way to partner with Restavek Freedom.
Shellie now uses her Lettering for Freedom Etsy shop to sell hand-lettered prints and gifts. She and her husband have committed to financially supporting children in restavek, and she has included a portion of her proceeds from her hand lettering each month. They are committed to supporting the work of Restavek Freedom in order to end child slavery in Haiti. Her prints pair powerful words with rich colors and textures to offer prints that can inspire, motivate and sooth the viewer. She uses scripture, inspirational quotes and images to convey a message of faith, hope and love. She selflessly uses her artwork to generate donations and spread the word about Restavek Freedom.
We recently had the opportunity to speak with Shellie and learn what Lettering for Freedom means to her:
Restavek Freedom: How did you get started with Restavek Freedom?
Shellie Santiago: When I began doing my hand lettering in July 2016, I loved it but I found it a little empty. I felt that something was missing. The Conns visited our church in the fall and during that service it was SO clear to me that I had to donate to them. I decided to sponsor a child through monthly donations from the proceeds I made selling my artwork.
RF: How did you become interested in hand lettering?
SS: A few months before the Conns visited our church, God had been stirring up something in me to start painting again and to learn/practice lettering. I have loved painting and drawing ever since I was little, and I had been praying that God would open a door for me to work from home for almost 3 years. God opened my eyes when I read what He asked Moses in Exodus 4: “What is in your hand?” In July of last year I started painting again and learning hand lettering techniques. I was terrible at it! But watching videos and continuing to practice different techniques has paid off. I sold my first piece of art in August 2016 and it has been overwhelming ever since.
RF: How do you have time and space for your work, while also raising a family?
SS: At first, I tried working during the day and that was not successful. It was not healthy for my children or me. There were a few months when I’d wake up early and work for about an hour before the kids got up. That was ideal; however, unsustainable. I found I am most productive working at night between 8:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m., when the kids are in bed. I used to have my artwork everywhere in the house, and it wasn’t good. My amazing husband cleared out a storage room in the basement, put in a table and chair, and cleared shelves so I could have my own workspace. We have figured out what works and what doesn’t by many trials and errors.
RF: How does social media work for you? How have you set boundaries?
SS: Social media (Lettering for Freedom Instagram and Facebook) has been the number one avenue for marketing and selling my art. It has been a tremendous tool to learn and grow in order to promote my products. When I first began, I allowed it to be quite consuming and it was taking a toll on my family and me. My mom gave me the idea to create work hours for myself, and it has definitely helped in balancing my day-to-day responsibilities. While my kids are playing (nicely) or watching a movie, I take time to work/post/email. I used to be concerned with posting projects immediately, but it was too frustrating, consuming and unsustainable. I also learned that when I’m interrupted during a project, I can’t get frustrated. When I can work during the day it is a TREAT. My kids will only be little once and I have to remind myself what a gift it is to be in the position that I am.
RF: Why is this important to you?
SS: There have been pivotal moments in my journey that have brought me to this place. I watched a documentary on human trafficking my freshman year of college, and that was when I first heard of the horrific injustice. Over the next few years I went to the Dominican Republic and Guatemala on mission trips and saw firsthand what God sees everyday. I heard a song, “Albertine” by Brooke Fraser, and it says: “Now that I have seen, I am responsible.” I can’t forget that either. I HAVE SEEN and I KNOW and at times I’ve felt helpless over the last few years, wondering if I can make a difference. But God is so good and has led me to this place where I can use the gifts He has given me to give back to Him.
At Restavek Freedom, we are dedicated to ending child slavery in Haiti. We have committed our work and our influence to 1) freeing children from isolation, exploitation and abuse, 2) educating and engaging with families so children do not end up as slaves, and 3) transforming hearts through national outreach efforts that empower change. Founded in 2007, we have a strong Haitian-led team working throughout Haiti, with staff based in Port-au-Prince and Port Salut, as well as a small support staff in Cincinnati, Ohio. Donate now, sponsor a child, and join us today and to play a part in ending child slavery in Haiti.