Who our allies are
Konbit Solèy Leve’s relationship with outsiders (people who were not from Cite Soleil) was complex. Outsiders (including foreigners, NGOs, the UN, and private sector) have a history of taking advantage of Haitian communities. Cite Soleil has had a lot of challenging experiences with well-intentioned (and not to well-intentioned) outsiders. However, it is an important part of the mission's movement to break down the negative stereotypes and othering of Soleyans by building and transforming relationships with outsiders.
Strengths & challenges
Allies have both incredibly positive and deeply negative impacts on the movement itself. This was a new era for Cite Soleil - one of the main objectives of the movement was to challenge the stereotypes of what being a Soleyan meant, and to not just break down the walls between the blocks but also the walls between Cite Soleil and the outside world. Initially, the involvement of outsiders was a strong statement that things were changing, that the walls were coming down, that the stigma of Cite Soleil being a ‘red zone’ that was off-limits to foreigners was getting weaker. In some cases, the presence of outsiders inspired people to get involved in konbits – the thought was ‘how can I stand here and watch someone else clean up my neighborhood?’ Several foreigners actually began to live in Cite Soleil – Aimee Gaines, Sabina Carlson, then Jimmy Levi and Felipe Jacome, Brian Wolford and occasionally Delphine Bedu. For some people, this was a point of pride and proof that the neighborhood transformation programs were changing. For others, the presence of mostly white foreigners provided some protection against abuses from UN peacekeepers or local police.
But for others, this was too much. There was a deep-seated history of mistrust of outsiders in Cite Soleil, and for good reason. Many outsiders have come to Cite Soleil and made friends only to use them for their own projects or political devices. Eventually, the continued presence of so many foreigners in Cite Soleil lost its sense of novelty and suspicions began to set in. People began to question why these foreigners would choose to live in these kinds of conditions, and were convinced that they must have had ulterior motives – several of these foreigners were accused of being spies or CIA agents. This created rifts in the movement itself, with some people believing that the presence of these outsiders undermined the credibility of a movement that was claiming to be about self-determination.
Eventually, the visible presence of outsiders in Konbit Solèy Leve lessened, and the foreigners moved out of Cite Soleil for various reasons. However, the movement maintained its network of allies – foreign volunteers, responsible NGOs, and socially-conscience businesses – that it could turn to for support when needed, and who could advocate for the values and vision of Konbit Solèy Leve. This network remains strong and diverse, and – perhaps more importantly – more in the background than the early days of the movement.
Advice for allies
To other Haitian allies: understand that it takes time for us to learn to trust again. Haitian society has shut us out for so long, has labelled us gangsters and criminals. Our children are mocked in school, our young people are shut out of jobs, our adults are shamed and humiliated for being from Cite Soleil. This has left deep wounds, and many of us have internalized those stigmas. While you personally may not have participated in this, Haitian society as a whole has wounded us, and sometimes that hurt makes us act in strange and counter-productive ways. Be patient with us, listen to our stories, and give us time to heal.
To international volunteers: learn how to step back and listen. There was a time in the history of Konbit Solèy Leve where the enthusiasm of foreign volunteers almost sunk the movement. We need to move at our own pace and in our own direction, and serious social change will not always happen before your summer break ends. We need allies, but we need allies that are willing to be behind the scenes and listen to us. You cannot want change more than we do.
To NGOs and the UN: be aware that you can do more harm than good. The money you bring into our communities often creates divisions and jealousies and leaves us fighting as soon as the project is over (and sometimes even before). Our problems are too complex and ingrained and strange to be solved by a project, a conference, or a training. You need to learn to listen to us, since we are the ones who have to live with the long-term consequences of your intervention. You need to learn to take your time – you cannot care about your achieving your project objectives more than you care about us. We are not your beneficiaries – we are people, and we have a say in what happens in our communities.
To the media: we are not a single story. For far too long, you have only come to Cite Soleil to cover shootings and violence. When we had positive community initiatives, we have to pay you to show up – but when there are gunshots, you find a way to show up on your own. This has deepened the stigma that marks our young people and our neighborhoods, and it has real consequences for real people. Yes, the violence in Cite Soleil is real, but it is only a small part of our reality. Learn about all of our stories, and help us tell them.
Here are a few of the allies that have come to support different aspects of the movement over the past five years:
As Konibt Soley Leve is not a registered organization and has no way to apply for resources and opportunities that may be important for our members, many NGOs have stepped up over the years to the movement itself or individual groups within the movement. Future Generations Haiti was the first organization to help mentor the movement and provide small community project grants. The Coady International Institute and associated Center for Haitian Leadership and Excellence also provided mentorship and leadership training, while American Friends Service Committee helped KSL organize peace-building cells. Norwegian Church Aid provided support for professional school scholarships, Malteser International helped individual communities with materials for neighborhood clean-ups. Haiti Communitere is a community resource center that opened its doors for countless local Soleyan projects, and English in Mind is an english school that provides scholarships for Cite Soleil Peace Prize winners. Haiti Communitere provides space and resources for community initiatives, and Lakou Lape helps to connect us with our brothers and sisters in other ghettos. We recognize the organizations who have supported local initiatives instead of using our misery as the justification for a project.
There have been countless individuals - Haitian and expats - who have contributed to the movement in big and small ways. These are people who have brought specific skills, resources, and opportunities to members of the movement when asked to bring these to the table. These are people who are not here to post pictures on Facebook, stoke their own egos, or promote their own causes. We recognize the individuals who are here to learn from us and participate where, when, and how the community asks them to.
Cite Soleil has long had a complicated history with the private sector, and now important bridges are being built. Individuals from the Haitian private sector such as Philippe Armande from CAH, Olivier Taluy from Matelec, and Patrice Bayard from Access Haiti have ignored skepticism and fear from their peers and reached out to meet us halfway. They have been supportive just through helping build partnerships and friendships across class lines, and contributing funds to important grassroots projects that wouldn't otherwise find support. And social enterprises such as DloHaiti, Miyamoto International, KouzinDlo, Sigora Solar, and others have chosen to invest in our communities in ways that have a measurable social impact. We recognize those in the private sector who see the potential in our neighborhoods, our young people, and our vision for the future.
Social change doesn't happen in a void. For true empowerment and social change, you not only have to change people but you have to change the people around them (-borrowed from Dee Mandiyan). This section describes who the allies of Konbit Soley Leve are, the strengths and challenges they bring, and advice.