Leadership Profile - Louino Robillard

Leadership Profile – Louino Robillard

Program Director Louino “Robi” RobillardEmpowering Communities in Haiti

“I was looking for new opportunities to contribute to positive social change,” says Haitian activist Louino “Robi” Robillard.  A community development expert, Robillard has found those opportunities with Rasin Devlopman on the island of La Gonave.

At only 34-years old, Robi has already made huge inroads into transforming some of Haiti’s most impoverished communities. From replanting deforested areas in the village of Saint Raphael, where he was born, to mobilizing young people in nearby communities to help build Haiti’s largest library, Robi has empowered others to lead — generating positive development without future dependency.

Over the past decade, Robillard, who holds an MA in Applied Community Change and Peacebuilding, has deftly utilized his education, along with his passion, to push for change and  encourage the brightest of young people to take charge of their own futures.

As Program Director for Rasin Devlopman, Robi is overseeing the organization’s work on La Gonave. His position came about as Roots of Development scaled down its involvement in the work on the ground, in order to be more helpful by focusing on communications and fundraising. Rasin Developman now oversees all aspects of the projects on La Gonave and programming in Haiti.

“It is development without dependency at its best,” says Chad Bissonette, Executive Director of Roots of Development. “The entire team in Haiti that is working with our local partners to implement projects on La Gonave is Haitian. They are folks who have lived the challenges and know the culture. They are the most well-equipped to find the solutions and ensure success.”

According to Robi, “’Our young people can learn the skills necessary to advance the quality of life in their own communities, They must become our ‘agents of change,’ maintaining the momentum needed to sustain continued positive development.”

“Things get done when people and communities come together to work for a common cause. In Haiti, we call it ‘konbit’ —the traditional form of a Haitian labor cooperative,” explains Robi. A proponent and teacher of konbit, he has written extensively about this traditional practice and how it can be used to leverage for social cohesion.

Robillard put the tradition to work in 2011, when he co-founded Konbit Soley Leve, which is a social movement in the marginalized area of Cite Soleil that brought together different neighborhoods to create social change. Building on this movement is Konbit Bibliyotèk Site Soley (Cite Soleil Konbit Library), a social mobilization initiative with a goal of building a modern public library in Cite Soleil. In the past three years, over 6,000 individual donors, most of whom are from Cite Soleil, have contributed over 23 million gourdes (approximately $216,000 US) and 25,000 books. Construction of the library is well underway, but the initiative has already changed the dialogue about community-led development in Haiti.

With a Rasin Developman, Robi will utilize Konbit to inspire and train the people of La Gonave to take their development, their future into their own hands. He is identifying promising young leaders and helping them develop the tools to understand and build on their strengths, to build new infrastructure, protect their families from public health threats like COVID-19, and develop more economic activities in their communities. Robi believes that other people will not save Haiti for Haitians, just as other people will not save La Gonave for Gonavians.

“I see Rasin Devlopman as an organization committed to helping bridge local development with global solidarity, leaving behind old forms of aid that promote dependency,” says Robi. “By reaching back into their collective history, identifying their common resources and values, and committing themselves to the long haul, I believe that the people of La Gonave can transform their future.”

Interview by Sharon Callahan

Our COVID-19 activities on La Gonave

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Dear Chad,

We just completed Phase 1 of our COVID-19 response plan.

We carried out awareness campaigns in 6 of the 11 communal sections that make up La Gonave and installed more than 80 hand washing stations throughout those six sections. We are in constant contact with our network of community leaders on the island, who continue to evaluate and report back on the situation and maintain the hand washing stations that were installed in their communities. We are in contact with staff at La Gonave’s only hospital and are a member of the COVID-19 emergency response committee that the mayors of Anse-a-Galets and Pointe-a-Raquette formed to respond to this emergency more effectively. The committee includes other elected officials, a representative from the Ministry of Public Health and the hospital in Anse-a-Galets, and various NGOs (non-governmental organizations) that work on the island.

Phase 2 of our plan includes training leaders in the five remaining communal sections of the island and quickly spreading awareness about the virus and distributing prevention materials there. If we are able to raise the funding needed, Phase 2 will also involve supporting the production and distribution of locally sewn masks, and a micro-grant initiative that will put funds directly in the hands of communities leading their own COVID-19 prevention efforts.

By investing in local leadership on the island for the past decade, we have been helping La Gonave prepare for moments just like these. With our community-driven approach to development and our strong network, we are able to support effective emergency response efforts and the following longer-term, recovery efforts in a way that does not compromise future development or resiliency, but instead strengthens local capacity. Increasing evidence and policy guidance have been pointing towards the importance of local leadership in development, crisis response, and post-crisis recovery and resilience. Roots of Development is uniquely situated to accompany the people of La Gonave in their fight against COVID-19.

COVID-19 and La Gonave

La Gonave is in a unique situation in terms of the potential spread and impact of COVID-19 across Haiti. As an island accessible only by boat, the virus may take more time in reaching the island than the rest of the densely populated and interconnected mainland. However, while that isolation may be an advantage in terms of delaying the arrival of COVID-19, it quickly becomes a disadvantage in terms of facing the threat of the virus once it arrives. La Gonave only has one full-service hospital, The Wesleyan Hospital in Anse-a-Galets. The hospital is currently equipped with 40 beds. As of mid-April, based on information obtained by Roots of Development from hospital management, the hospital was in possession of sufficient masks and gloves for staff but did not have sufficient eye protection. The hospital has minimal oxygen capacity (only enough for about 3 or 4 patients) and no ventilators. According to reports, there are only around 60 ventilators in the entire country (Haiti). Testing is not available on the island.

The geographical isolation of La Gonave makes it unlikely for medical reinforcement to arrive in the event of a surge of COVID-19 cases. Supply chain management for basic medical supplies on the island is a challenge in non-emergency times. With reduced movement, closed markets, and other limitations caused by the pandemic, La Gonave’s health systems will struggle to maintain supplies. La Gonave’s isolation as an island also makes it difficult for those with COVID-19 to seek treatment elsewhere.

La Gonave has long been socio-politically marginalized from the mainland. It was largely forgotten in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, and it is likely the same will occur during this emergency. On May 18th, there were 533 reported cases of COVID-19 in Haiti, including 21 deaths. The number of new cases is starting to quickly rise. 

“Haiti, spared a major coronavirus outbreak so far, now a ‘tinderbox’ set to ‘explode’.” – The Washington Post, 5/15/2020

It is essential that we, in partnership with our local partners (island leaders), use this time to educate as many citizens as possible, distribute necessary equipment, and prepare La Gonave for the impact of COVID-19.

Please continue to support our emergency efforts by making a donation today

Sincerely, 

Chad Bissonnette

Executive Director

Installation of another set of solar street lamps on La Gonave with Parsons School of Design

For the second year in a row, key locations in several communities on the island of La Gonave have been lit up with newly installed solar-powered street lamps. The new light is a product of a second collaboration between Roots of Development, a team from Parsons School of Design in New York City, and Roots’ local community partner APDAG. This year’s project built on the success of last year’s installment of five solar street lamps in key areas around the community of Gran Sous.

 


Chad Groshart, a professor at Parsons School of Design, teaches a graduate course on lighting in the developing world for students studying lighting, architecture, and product design. A group of his students collaborated to provide design and technical expertise for the street lamps. They also helped raise money to fund the purchase and transport of the light poles. Groshart and the students joined Roots of Development on La Gonave last month to help local community groups install the new set of lights.


The street lamps are solar powered, and have controllers which allow them to turn on automatically when it starts getting dark. Around 6:30PM every evening, the lights turn on. They stay turned on at full power until midnight, at which time the controller reduces the light by half until 6:00 AM when the lamps turn off. This process helps save power by limiting the light produced when there are fewer people around and therefore less need for light.


The preparation and implementation phases of the project were led by APDAG and representatives of its various member groups. The community’s role included selecting where the street lamps would be placed, preparation of the installation site, providing materials and labor for the installation, and of course maintenance of the poles. With guidance from APDAG, residents debated the merits of possible locations for the solar street lamps. Based upon the needs of their community, they determined which spots would benefit the most from the light. Local groups were also responsible for providing cement, sand, rocks, water, and labor for the installation of each lamp.

The street lamps were purchased from a Haitian-owned company based in Port-au-Prince called ENERSA. This is the second year that ENERSA has worked on this project, as they also provided the light poles for the installation in May 2016. Every part of the light pole is locally sourced and purchased in Haiti, and is meant to have a long life span. They are made of strong durable materials, with solar panels that can last over 25 years and LED lights that will last about 10 years.


The new light has had a clear and immediate impact on the community. Small businesses have popped up under the lights, students are able to study after dark, and the community gathers to plan and discuss current events. Not only does light add to the development of an area by serving as a focal point for economic activities, it strengthens community. Immediately following the installation of the lamps, the community began gathering under the new light. They were hanging out, telling jokes, and listening to music. The influence of the new lamps is already spreading across the island, with leaders from other communities traveling to see the lamps and meeting with APDAG to learn how they might acquire similar lamps to light their own communities.


In evaluations that took place with APDAG after the completion of the project, the great majority of community members in attendance marked the project as a real success. The majority of respondents rated “project implementation” as very good or excellent, including on critical elements such as management of time, money, and materials, the efficiency of the planning process, and accomplishing the project’s objective. Excitement about the new lamps was clear at the meeting. As one resident explained, “this was only seen in our dreams before, only in dreams. Even our ancestors never could have imagined this for our community. Not our great grandparents, not our grandparents, not our parents.”


This project would not have been a success without the generous support of donors and sponsors including The New School, USAI Lighting, Vode, Mercury Lighting, and Lumenwerx. If you are interested in getting involved in Roots of Development’s work, or helping us expand this project specifically, write to us at info@rootsofdevelopment.org.

New Solar Street Lamps Installed on La Gonave

Roots of Development is happy to announce the success of the recent community driven project in Gran Sous to bring public lighting to the village.

 

A group of students from Parson’s School of Design in New York City donated and worked alongside Roots’ local partners to install solar powered LED lighting at key areas of Gran Sous. Led by Parsons faculty member and alumnus Chad Groshart, six students in the Parsons’ Lighting for Developing Countries class traveled from New York City to Haiti.

 

The culmination of a semester-long study on light poverty in less developed countries, the project used the design skills and critical thinking of the students to craft a sustainable, durable solution to the committee’s request for public lighting.


“Through this project, our students have demonstrated that lighting design has the power to improve the quality of life for an entire community,” Groshart said. “Not only does light allow the community to socialize, study, and sell goods after dark, it is also seen as a marker of progress that will help it to attract more partners to advance development.”

 

Through each stage of the project, Groshart and his students focused on a homegrown approach to development: The team sourced needed gear from local vendors and worked closely with community residents on the design and installation of the lighting system.

“The idea of development shouldn’t come from us, but from the community with which we’re working,” Groshart said. “There’s a long history of outside organizations with good intentions bringing ill-begotten solutions to Haiti. Our approach, which mirrors the approach of Roots of Development, is to give the community the tools they need to drive their own progress.”

 

Responding to a request from The Professional Association for the Development and Advancement of Gran Sous (La Gonave), a local community group established by Roots of Development, Groshart and his students worked with local residents to develop an action plan to bring public lighting to their community. Together with residents of Gran Sous, students dug holes for the lights and set them in concrete.

“After we completed the task of installing several solar lighting fixtures around Grand Sous, the faces of the residents told an entire story in one glance,” Alexander Valencia, MA Architecture ‘17, said. “They were proud of their lights and everyone in La Gonave was excited about the development. But more important than their sense of pride was their sense of connection to the larger community of Haiti and the rest of the world.”


To view more photos from this exciting project click here.

 

The project was sponsored by the Atelier Ten Foundation, Bartco Lighting, Lumenwerx Lighting, and USAI Lighting. A huge thank you to them and Roots of Development’s many partners.

Update on Installation of Internet Antenna

Over the last few months we has been working with our local partners, APDAG, in Haiti to bring internet to their community on the island of La Gonave.

 

Beginning in November, we secured a new partnership with Access Haiti, a national telecommunications company to work with APDAG on installing an internet antenna. The process of developing and implementing a plan was a big step for APDAG to engage with a new partner and advocate for the needs of their community.

 

Here's a picture of one of our early meetings where we finalized the plans to move forward.


 

As with all of our projects in Haiti, we strive for development without dependency, urging our local partners to take active roles in initiatives. In the plans created with Access Haiti, APDAG agreed to provide the onsite preparations. By measuring the land around the community office, which will become the location of the antenna, APDAG is making sure the installation process can move forward smoothly.

 

 

At this moment, the tower for the antenna is being fabricated in Port-au-Prince. Access Haiti will manage the transportation of the antenna to the island of La Gonave where APDAG members are prepared and eager to get the installation underway.

 


 

With access to reliable internet APDAG will be able to better manage local development efforts and attract more partners to support efforts in the area. This antenna is another step towards development that engages communities and we are excited to see the opportunities it will allow APDAG to undertake for future projects.