Gwoup Konbit

August 11, 2023

Gwoup Konbit

In 2011, Louino Robillard, who is now Rasin Devlopman’s Program Director, his future wife Sabina Carlson, and a number of community leaders were seeking a Haitian model of community-led development to implement in Cité Soleil (Site Solèy), one of the most marginalized areas of Haiti.

Over the previous several decades, large aid organizations had robbed Haitian communities like Cité Soleil of the autonomy to address their own issues by making them reliant on foreign money and expertise. This left leaders around the country searching for a better way—and Robi and Sabina, who had dedicated their lives to studying and practicing community organizing and development, were determined to find it. On June 25th, 2011, Konbit Solèy Leve (Rising Sun Collective) was launched, with members from 5 different neighborhoods of Cité Soleil.

In creating their movement, Konbit Solèy Leve tapped into a powerful, Haitian concept that has ties all the way back to the country’s history as a colony: Konbit. Konbit is the practice of supporting your fellow community members through collective action, especially during tough times.

They organized their movement to be completely democratic, making decisions through an assembly of community leaders, without any hierarchy. Together, the members of Konbit Solèy Leve cleaned up canals, planted trees, painted homes, and covered public areas in graffiti depicting positive images and messages—all efforts not only to make Cité Soleil a better place to live, but one its residents could take pride in.

After five years of informally practicing konbit, Konbit Solèy Leve published “Cité Soleil: Five years of Konbit,” a review of the work they had done together, hoping it would inspire others toward collective action in their communities.

They also launched Konbit Bibliyotèk Site Solèy, aiming to build Haiti’s biggest library in Cité Soleil as a statement about the power of konbit and its principles: transparency, equity, participation, collaboration, solidarity, and sustainability. Konbit Solèy Leve began collecting donations in increments of 5 and 10 HTG (about 7 cents) from community members.

Quickly, word of the library spread across the country. Within three years, the library project received donations totaling more than 26 million HTG (about $200,000 US) and 26,000 books from more than 6,000 people. Construction began on the project, and the library was 70% complete when insecurity in Haiti forced the project to be halted.

In 2021, 10 years after the founding of Konbit Solèy Leve, leaders and organizations across the country reached out to the team in Cité Soleil, asking for trainings in konbit development practices. On June 25, 2021, the first ‘An n Devlope Konbit’ (“Let’s develop Konbit”) Workshop was convened in Port-au-Prince, with more than 60 people from the area in attendance.

This collection of organizations and community leaders became what is now known as Gwoup Konbit.

A year later, on June 25, 2022, Gwoup Konbit held its second ‘An n Devlope Konbit’ Workshop, this time drawing more than 80 people for trainings and discussions on konbit practices. It became clear that there was a real need for this kind of forum, where leaders could study, share, and disseminate what they had learned from their work–not only in Cité Soleil and Port-au-Prince, but across Haiti.

On June 25th of this year, Gwoup Konbit gathered more than 120 leaders from around the country for its 3rd ‘An n Devlope Konbit’ Workshop. Topics covered included education, environment and sustainability, governance, and community-led development, drawing from the lessons learned by Konbit Solèy Leve, Rasin Devlopman, and others. Together, these leaders are working to create a guide to community-led development to help people across the country utilize konbit in their work.

Though Sabina Carlson Robillard tragically passed away in November of 2022, the work has continued in her memory. Alongside his role as Program Director of Rasin Devlopman, Louino Robillard is helping to lead the effort to spread community-led development and konbit throughout Haiti. Roots of Development is proud to be supporting the work of Gwoup Konbit as it continues to grow in impact throughout Haiti.

Written by Charlie Estes

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