Because he grew up in Cite Soleil, Robi doesn’t take birthdays lightly. And after the earthquake of 2010, Robi made a promise to himself to use each birthday as a chance to reflect on what he is doing on this earth, and how he can change. The past few years, he has spent his birthday fasting and doing community service – one year he spent reconciling groups of friends who were fighting, for another he took a group of young social leaders from various ghettos around Port au Prince and brought them to a part to reflect on social change.
This year, as he was planning for his birthday, Robi realized he needed something more. 2015 has been such a challenging year for young people in Cite Soleil, and so many of them have become discouraged because of the increased violence. He felt he needed to do something active, visible, and concrete to remind them that they still had something to offer their community. So Robi decided to turn his birthday into a volunteer day at the Chancerelles Maternity Hospital in Cite Soleil.
Starting early in the morning of April 1st, over a dozen of young leaders from across Cite Soleil showed up at the small maternity hospital. There were a handful of volunteers who were nurses and nursing students, and they got right to work supporting the overstretched staff. Babies were delivered, mothers were cared for, and medical staff were given time to breathe.
There were also a group of artists: the Soleyan musicians Gueldy and Belabre sang to exhausted mothers and newborn babies. The comedy theater troupe from SAKALA entertained anxious relatives out in the waiting room. They all walked around trying to lighten the mood and provide comfort to anyone seemingly under stress.
Everyone who was not a medical professional or an artist was put on cleaning duty. The rainy season recently started, and the yard of the hospital was filled with standing water and blocked canals. Robi and a team of volunteers got to work clearing the hospital inside and out, and focused on getting rid of standing water that could breed mosquitoes.
After an 8 hour day, the hospital staff came out and thanked the volunteers. They said they had never seen the hospital so clean, or the staff and patients so happy. They said that after this violent year, they were beginning to lose hope that Cite Soleil could ever change, but that the young people who had showed up today had renewed their faith. Something good could come yet from this generation.
And that message had a strong impact on the people that were volunteering with Robi – it restored some of the faith they had in themselves. They had all been so used to giving to their communities, and felt that the recent violence had tied their hands, made them question who they were as leaders. This small action reminded them that they still had something left to give. Robi’s 8 year-old daughter Dayana was present the whole day, because Robi also wanted her to see the model of young people from Cite Soleil who hadn’t given up on making a difference.
It’s this need for validation and encouragement in these dark times is also the reason why Robi is launching a crowdfunding campaign to support the Cite Soleil Peace Prize, an initiative to recognize young people in Cite Soleil who have still held on to the dream of peace. If you can, please support this initiative and share it with people who believe that young people can make change happen. They certainly showed they could make a difference on April 1st, and that was the greatest gift Robi could have asked for.