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"The People Must Be Agents of Change:" The Lambi Fund of Haiti

A meeting of one Lambi Fund partner organization. Photo courtesy of the Lambi Fund.

Josette Pérard is director of Fon Lanbi Haiti, the Haitian counterpart of the Lambi Fund. Fon Lanbi trains, builds capacity of, and gets grants to women’s and small farmer organizations in rural areas. Josette’s perspectives on community development follow.

The idea of development is to provide everyone with the means to work, to meet their needs, and to let them enjoy their human rights so they can be full citizens. But for development to occur, the system must change. And the people must be agents of that change.

If Haiti and our communities were organized, development activities would come just from the initiative of the community members themselves. But because of how the country works, because there’s no government action, there must be some organizations like ours to help people implement community development programs.

Alternative means if something that is necessary doesn’t exist, you must do it yourself. Lambi Fund’s development programs constitute an alternative compared to what the government does. But I don’t think this form of development can lead to a complete solution.

What we have now is a subsistence economy. An economy of local or community small businesses won’t change the national economy as a whole. The country's economy must change so that people can get education, health, and many other things. For this, there must be a responsible government. There must be two-way communication and joint participation between the government and the communities.

Everyone wonders why Haiti is in the state it’s in. It’s because since 1804, there are so many who’ve been called moun andeyò, outsiders [those living in the countryside]. These people continue to be excluded from what’s happening in their own homeland. They don’t know what the big social, political, and economic powers are doing. They must accept or take whatever is designed for them.

Some of the privileged are descendants of former colonists. After the revolution in 1804, they simply wanted to continue using the former slaves, keeping them in their fields of sugar cane and coffee just like in the days of slavery. Today it’s the great-grandsons and granddaughters who maintain political, economical and social power, at the expense of the majority. Those holding the reins of power aren’t affected by the problems of those ‘outside’, and they just don’t care.

A society that maintains so much exclusion simply can’t achieve development. No way. Development has to involve everyone.

I’ve been listening to the statements of the presidential candidates. Many of them say absolutely nothing about the majority of the Haitian people. You hear them seldom, if ever, even open their mouths to utter the words "the people.” You never hear them say they will do anything with the participation of the population, but you often hear them say, "We’ll do this or that for the people!" In fact, no leader can do anything for anybody.

Another thing since independence: Haitians have known that they have the courage and that they must take responsibility for their own lives. They know that they can’t rely on others. With this in mind, when they find organizations such as the Lambi Fund that support their initiatives, they become participants with all their energy and their whole being. They cooperate to make changes in the communities where they live.

Now, with the support of Lambi and other organizations, community members have been able to implement some development activities. For example, where there’s a corn mill, our organization helps members of the community increase their production by providing seeds for them to produce more corn. But the mill can still go unused because people don’t have access to roads. They need the means to transform their raw products [into more durable ones that can survive long travel] and they also need roads so that they can go sell their products in better market conditions. We can’t build inter-city roads; that’s the responsibility of the government. But through konbit, collective work teams, we can help construct paths that will allow farmers to go from one place to another, walking with their donkeys. That's how we’re implementing a few small programs of alternative development as a first step in a comprehensive intervention. That's how I see things.

The Lambi Fund is trying to help those organizations that have identified problems in their communities and are trying to resolve them. But even when people already know the means to solve a problem, there will always be financial issues, because for each activity in a development process, there must be money. So we sit down and talk to them, we work with them.

But giving money for community development activities isn’t the only work we do. We also have a support function of giving hope. The community members are facing major problems and have identified the solutions, but they want our help. We see how they envisage the planning and implementation of programs to bring change to their lives. We listen to what people have to say. We help them find the knowledge, resources and know-how to implement their projects. We educate and train the members of this organization, we pass on techniques for management, we strengthen the organization itself. We help people move through the processes to achieve their goals so they can become independent.

Now they create management committees, they appoint a coordinating committee, and you can feel the momentum. These people’s hopes are buoyed with the appearance of a small business they’ve managed to put on track. We can see the light that springs from this little hope that starts to shine brighter and brighter through everything else.

Consider, for example, the management and operation of that corn mill I talked about. Customers come and pay to have their grain processed into flour. Now with the education we’re providing the mill owners with, the community organization learns to better manage the money they earn. They know they need to save some of that money to use later to repair the mill if it breaks down. They know they must be able to cope with any problem that might arise. They have to be able to eventually buy another mill. They have to pay wages to the operator who runs the mill. Part of the money should go to fund the petty cash they keep to lend some money to group members, etc. So, it’s a whole chain of actions in which each activity leads to another activity.

It’s in the process of organizational development that people understand and learn that they must they must assert their rights and that they must demand what the government or the authorities owes them. So the work we do isn’t only implementing small development programs, because how could we change the economy that way? We’re also helping people to survive, to resist, to get the change they need.

After the earthquake of January 12, things got more complicated but regardless, I think there is hope in the air. Don’t you see how all the people move without getting tired like ants do, how they’re trying to reestablish their lives with their own hands? You’ve visited some camps; you saw the small businesses they’ve created. They make these small investments because nobody is doing anything serious to help them, because they’ve gotten little to none of the aid.

My dream is that there be real development in Haiti. As I said, these small community development initiatives we’re implementing now are simply for relief. We're just trying to help people to hold on until the legitimate demands of the Haitian people can be met, until significant changes can really be made; that’s why we call them alternatives.

Another part of my dream is that we have a responsible government. Progressive ideas have to come forth so that they can really make positive and tangible changes. And there has to be space for participation by all citizens who’ve courageously begun the development of their communities with their own means, however modest. Change will come when the people are engaged right at the heart of things.

For more information, see www.lambifund.org.

Many thanks to Joseph N. Pierre and Pro Bilingual Interpreter Services for translation of Josette’s interview.

Beverly Bell has worked with Haitian social movements for over 30 years. She is also author of the book Walking on Fire: Haitian Women's Stories of Survival and Resistance. She coordinates Other Worlds, www.otherworldsarepossible.org, which promotes social and economic alternatives. She is also associate fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies.

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