The Konbit Bibliyotek Project


#KonbitBibliyotek is a community crowdfunding campaign started by Haitian community activists affiliated with Future Generations with the goal of building a library in Cite Soleil, which is Haiti’s largest ghetto. By combining Haitian traditions, such as konbit (cooperative communal labor), with the modern tools of social media, this initiative has spread like wildfire across Cite Soleil and beyond! To date, it has already brought more than 3000 people together to raise around $12,500, with 3,641 books collected. Keep reading to find out how this movement evolved and why it’s so important…
 
 
 

Background

Cite Soleil is a municipality that lies on the northwestern edge of Port au Prince, Haiti’s capital city. As mentioned above, it is known as Haiti’s largest ghetto. Cite Soleil has experienced a vicious cycle of political and gang violence, which leads to economic and social marginalization, which in turn creates the conditions for more violence. The stigma associated with Cite Soleil is significant, which not only reinforces the social isolation of the community,  but has been internalized by many of its young people who see that society only expects them to grow up to be criminals.

However, the vast majority of people living in Cite Soleil are ordinary people trying to make an honest life for themselves and their families. Cite Soleil is full of young people with talent, potential, and dreams of a better future. Over the past six years, a social movement named Konbit Soley Leve has dedicated itself to identifying, strengthening, and highlighting all that is positive about Cite Soleil, and working to change the image that the world as of this community. In the past year and a half, there has actually been a truce between the major gangs of Cite Soleil, leading to an unprecedented period of peace that the community would like to build on.

The Library Story

In early 2017, a group of young artists and intellectuals in Cite Soleil decided that it was important to build a library in Cite Soleil. Over the past decade, there had been a lot of investment in youth spaces, but these spaces were mostly for sports. They brought the idea to Konbit Soley Leve, who advised them that instead of writing a proposal to a donor, they should first look for support in their own community. They should give ordinary people in Cite Soleil the opportunity to participate in making this dream a reality, that they should be the first donors. So Konbit Soley Leve and the youth group began to go door to door with a cardboard box, asking for contributions.

For the sake of transparency, each time someone contributes, the donor would take a

selfie and post it on Facebook with the hashtag #KonbitBibliyotek. The funds are counted every Sunday at the local radio station, where everyone was welcome to observe. At the end of the weekly count, a progress statement would be circulated on social media. 

 

The campaign went viral. People across Cite Soleil, many living on less than $2 a day, began to donate, then across Port au Prince, then Haiti, then the world. Schoolchildren gave up their lunch money, strangers who overheard about the project on public transport asked to contribute. A volunteer once drove all the way from Port au Prince to Les Cayes (an eight-hour round trip) just to pick up a single gourde that a little boy wanted to contribute. The idea was to change the perception of who is a donor and who is a beneficiary, and give people a chance to participate in a community vision.

 

Progress to Date

After 25 weeks of fundraising, 3,123 individual donors have contributed 1,080,771 gourdes  (approximately $12,432 USD), and 3,641 books.

An architect from Cite Soleil has designed the plan of the library, which is a grand vision. It is important that the library be an impressive building because people in Cite Soleil are tired of being treated as second-class citizens – they believe they deserve a first-class library. The library may cost as much as 10 times as much as has been raised so far – but given the remarkable success to date and how much the community believes in this vision, there is confidence that the library will be built.

Help has come in many forms. The local authorities in Cite Soleil have already dedicated a space for the library in Place Fierte – the public park in the heart of Cite Soleil. Young Haitians have volunteered to provide graphic design and marketing services, to produce promotional songs and videos. A company performed the land survey for free (which would have otherwise cost $7000), and a construction company has volunteered to build the library without payment. There are already commitments for, once the library is built, furniture, free internet, and language classes. There are groups that have volunteered to train young librarians for free.


This project is called Konbit Bibliyotek for a reason, because it leverages the principles behind the traditional Haitian practice of Konbit: if everyone contributes what they can, we can collectively achieve what no one could achieve alone. The community has already done so much and gone so far – and it is now looking for more friends and allies to join in, and help turn this dream into a reality.

The Impact

If this dream is realized, it will mean many things. First, it will provide an accessible space to promote learning, research, and debate in the heart of Cite Soleil; this will become a new center to provide community services. Second, it will help to change the image of Cite Soleil, both to young people in the community and to the rest of the world. Third, it will provide a new model of community-driven development and a statement of how Haitians can lead the way to a different future.
 
A community-led effort to build a library in the heart of Cite Soleil is important in several ways: on a practical level, it provides an accessible, neutral space for young people to further their studies, have educational discussions, and learn research and computer skills. It also encourages inter-neighborhood friendships. On a symbolic level, the community is claiming space to promote nonviolence and education; the process itself brings neighborhoods together around a common vision of education.
 
Ultimately, the project will help to shift perceptions inside and outside of Cite Soleil. Young people in Cite Soleil will see the value their community places in education, which will encourage them to stay in school (along with practical supports the library provides). A prominent community-supported library will also challenge external stigma about Cite Soleil. All of this will help promote social integration, empowerment, and future employment for Cite Soleil’s youth.

How You Can Help:

• Share the story. It’s important for people to know that this is happening, as it will help to change the image of Cite Soleil

• If you are in Haiti, contact Robillard.louino@gmail.com to arrange a visit to the library site, or to arrange dropping off books or making a donation.

• If you are outside of Haiti, you can contribute through our Global Giving site: https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/konbitbibliyotek/#me

• If you have any expertise, connections, or services to offer in support of this vision, contact Robillard.louino@gmail.com

 

For more on Konbit Bibliyotek, check out https://veritesoutanbou.wordpress.com/2017/02/28/konbitbibliyotek/.

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Louino Robillard is a Haitian community leader who was raised in Cite Soleil, Haiti’s largest ghetto. He has co-founded the Konbit Soley Leve movement, the Cite Soleil Peace Prize, and many other grassroots social change initiatives across Haiti. He graduated from the Future Generations Graduate School in 2013 with a Master’s in Applied Community Change and Peacebuilding.

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