Until a few years ago, the Cité Soleil neighborhood of Port-au-Prince was an economically depressed and overpopulated area, and considered one of the most dangerous places in Haiti. A community of nearly 300,000 people, the neighborhood was beset by gang violence and political turmoil.
After the earthquake in 2010, there was an influx of external and global organizations trying to work in this area, but many proved largely ineffective and fragmented, as they often helicoptered in, failed to collaborate with each other, and also failed to work directly with communities. People of the Solèy began to look for a model of change, and residents – especially youth – began to volunteer for the community.
A year after the earthquake, community leaders from seven neighborhood blocks organized a meeting to share their vision for their communities. Their common vision was aimed at a peaceful and clean neighborhood, and a new, shared identity for the people of the Solèy. The politics of the gangs in the neighborhood had kept the various blocks apart, but the leaders of these blocks realized they had much more in common and that their potential for peace, security, and progress would be so much greater if they could break down barriers and work collaboratively to improve the condition of the Solèy.
The discussion at that meeting birthed a social movement known as Konbit Solèy Leve — meaning a “new dawn” for people in the Solèy. “We decided to found this movement, where we can have an umbrella where everyone can be sitting together to decide the future of the community,” said Louino Robillard , a native of the northern town of Saint-Raphaël who moved to Cité Soleil with his father when he was three and grew up in the district’s Ti Ayiti section.
Konbit is built on the principles of solidarity, reciprocity, and participation. When there is a project in one neighborhood, other neighborhoods volunteer to help.The idea is to rely on mutual assistance and reciprocity, and not to rely on money to solve problems in times of need. Anyone can be a member of Konbit Solèy Leve. There are no requirements or hierarchies or structures. The simple measure is whether someone is willing to work towards positive change. Through this, they hope to break down barriers amongst the people and create a sense of collective identity.
Konbit Solèy Leve has been committed to building self-reliance patterns by using existing resources within the communities without much outside help. This helps them maintain an apolitical stance and work on priorities that are decided on by the communities without being swayed by outside influence.
With the aim of changing the popular perception of the people about Cité Soleil, members have worked together in teams to clean the trash off the streets, put up new streetlights, create a magazine and a sports league, build a public library, and engage community youth to create new leadership and innovation.
To honor this new leadership, in 2014, the movement started a prize for young leaders in the community to honor their work in an environment where they have rarely been previously recognized. Similarly, for their fifth anniversary, they published a magazine celebrating the community’s progress, and sharing positive stories of change with outside communities.
The Konbit Solèy Leve movement has been crucial to building up this fragile community in Haiti and presents a potential example of collaborative community building for a positive future. As Robillard says, “We still have a lot of work left to do but we have come a long way. Our communities don’t have a good image. People think if you go there, there are a lot of poor people, lot of trash, people with guns…. This was our first task: When we got together we wanted to change this image. so … we have made the rest of the country understand us. We have leaders everywhere in the Solèy who are working for positive change.Gangs still exist, but that is not the predominant image… [We are] an example to shape the future of the young people.”
Learn more: www.konbitsoleyleve.com