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Haitians organize democratically to solve their own problems

Page history last edited by Rosemary 12 years, 10 months ago

Haitians organize democratically to solve their own problems 

People in Haiti are dealing with their problems using their own capacities and abilities, through an organization called SODA - Sosyete Djòl Ansanm pou Demokrasi Patisipatif - which grew from the experience of young Haitians in Jakè, a poor neighborhood in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince.

Jakè shares the same problems as the city’s worst slums: streets covered in trash, houses made with cinder blocks and sheet metal, little or no access to potable water, a sewage system or electricity, kids who don’t go to school, unemployed young people who have nothing to do. The population is dense and there are likely more than 10,000 residents, although there is no reliable census information.

In early 2005, a group of mostly young people in Jakè formed Asanble Vwazen Jakè (AVJ), or Neighborhood Assembly of Jakè, a horizontally-organized community group committed to providing free education and inspiring civic participation in the neighborhood. AVJ has no president, or all-powerful committee; instead, in weekly townhall-style meetings, or "assemblies", held on Sundays, all neighbors are invited to participate and everyone has the same voice and vote.

AVJ took its first actions in the summer of 2005, organizing a youth basketball tournament and forming a street-cleaning team. Members then decided that the priority for their community, and their country, was education. In January 2006, they started a free school for kids who could not afford tuition and other costs at private and public schools. Some 85% of the schools in Haiti are private, and public schools also require payment. As a result, half of all Haitian children do not study and only one in 50 graduates from secondary school.

The AVJ school now has a dozen volunteer teachers and 120 students who go to class five days a week and are served a hot meal and clean drinking water everyday. But AVJ has not stopped there. Its members have transformed a dirt alleyway into a concrete-floored public plaza where every week the assembly holds meetings and gives free public screenings of movies. Meanwhile, AVJ has broken ground on a community garden and is hoping to soon launch a poultry project that would provide eggs for the school’s lunch program.

From their very first meeting, the members of AVJ have made a commitment to work for change not only for Jakè, but for their country. They dreamed that their efforts would become a model for other poor communities in Port-au-Prince and throughout Haiti. They visited other slums in the capital and even peasant communities in the countryside to share their experiences and help inspire the creation of other neighborhood assemblies. Their efforts have already borne fruit.

In January 2007, in a slum called Solino, a group of young people formed an assembly and started another free school that now has more than 120 students. Soon after, an assembly was formed in the poor neighborhood of Delmas 60 that has organized collective street cleaning efforts and is launching an adult literacy program. Nearby, residents of the Mon Laza slum have started a free school for some 50 children, and in Simon Pele, a group of young people have begun giving classes to 60 of the poorest kids from the area.

In 2006, members of AVJ, together with some young leaders from Solino and other Port-au-Prince slums, decided to create Sosyete Djòl Ansanm pou Demokrasi Patisipatif (SODA), an umbrella social movement that would link neighborhood assemblies throughout the capital and the country. The spark that caught fire in Jakè is already taking hold in other communities, as new members of SODA begin to organize assemblies, create schools and take action to improve living conditions and to create civic consciousness.

This story was adapted from information on the SODA website.


For more stories about literacy, see:

Literacy classes transform women's lives in western Afghanistan

Using mother tongue improves learning for Ngbaka children in Congo

Reading club grows into literacy program for 28 Solomon Islands villages

Land reform creates food security in Brazil

Rebuilding on Pinatubo with ash from 1991 eruption

Unique program empowers communities in 9 African countries

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