Perhaps you’ve seen the pictures circulating around your Haitian friends’ Facebook pages. People taking selfies, holding up a few crumpled gourdes to a camera, with the hashtag #KonbitBibliyotek. If these photos have seemed pleasant but mysterious, let us explain: it is part of a movement that started in Cite Soleil, Haiti’s biggest ghetto. A place that is known mostly for images of poverty, gang violence, and trash, this movement is mobilizing thousands of Soleyans and their allies around something that symbolizes the Cite Soleil that they want to see: a library. For five months, a campaign has slowly been growing: it started among residents of Cite Soleil, contributing whatever they can to build a modern library in the heart of their community, and has since grown to include people from all over Haiti, and the world. And after 21 weeks, this improbable local initiative has reached a major milestone: they have raised 1 million gourdes (about $16,000).
1 million gourdes is only a milestone: what is most important is the fact that it was raised without writing a proposal for funding, relying solely the initiative and solidarity of ordinary people. Everyone who contributes, no matter how small, is called a donor; most of the donors do not have bank accounts, and almost none of them have credit or debit cards. This was money passed from hand to hand, documented on social media for the sake of transparency. Behind the 1 million gourdes, there are almost 3,500 individual donors, most of whom are from Cite Soleil, almost all of whom are Haitian. This turns the idea of who is a donor and who is a beneficiary on its head, and it shows the strength of initiatives that are actually locally-driven.
1 million is only one milestone – a few estimates show that Cite Soleil and its allies need to raise almost 10 times as much if they want to build the library they envision. Because the library they envision is truly first-class: it has a computer center, an auditorium, a conference room, and more. There are those who question the wisdom of building such an impressive building in such a resource-poor community that has more pressing needs. But the library has a powerful symbolism: the people of Cite Soleil, tired of being treated as second-class citizens for so long, believe that this is the kind of public service that their children deserve. It represents that the aspirations of Cite Soleil are shifting; its youth are beginning to shed the social stigma they have internalized and see themselves as the intellectuals and leaders of tomorrow.
It is a grand vision, and it may only be attainable if greater numbers of friends and allies join this initiative. The reality is that people in Cite Soleil are giving all they can, and it will likely not be enough without others coming in to help the community get the last miles to its goal (if you’re so inspired, you can contribute on the Global Giving site or contribute books by contacting Robillard.firstname.lastname@example.org). The road to achieve this vision is long, but it’s a journey that is being led by people from Cite Soleil. Yesterday, at the sixth anniversary celebration of Konbit Soley Leve, Robi presented the architectural plan for the library and made the announcement about hitting the million gourde milestone. As thousands of Soleyans applauded, hundreds of them past or future donors, everything felt possible.