But perhaps the most significant effect of the violence is the stigma given to Cite Soleil - because for all of its very real challenges, the world has a distorted image of Cite Soleil. The vast majority of people in the municipality are honest people just trying to make a life for their families. And so violence - whether actual violence or the image of violence - keeps people from investing in the neighborhoods. This means there are few economic opportunities for young people from Cite Soleil - which means that more and more turn to the local gangs to get by. This same stigma is also an excuse for the state to not invest in adequate services in Cite Soleil - which means that more communities turn to the local gangs for protection and other services. So a vicious cycle is established: gang violence keeps investments out, and the lack of investments increases the numbers and power of the gangs. And hundreds of thousands of honest civilians are caught in the middle.
It takes a lot to break this circle - but DloHaiti is one of the brave few enterprises willing to try. Many NGOs get the financing to pursue projects to do violence reduction, but not many businesses are willing to take on the perceived risk of working in Cite Soleil. When DloHaiti agreed to work in Bwa Nef, it was a statement that it saw past the stigma and saw enough potential to invest in the community. That in and of itself an important gesture, and important step towards building the stability that is essential to eventual peace.
But that gesture was not enough to ensure a smooth project - there is a lot of skepticism about outsiders. DloHaiti has moved slowly and deliberately, working with the community contacts and partners who invited them to Bwa Nef - particularly Pastor Hilaire and Caroline Sada. Through going at the pace of the community, and following the lead of local leaders, DloHaiti has so far avoided many of the pitfalls that many others have fallen into.
Things can be especially challenging when there are jobs on the line - and DloHaiti had seven small jobs that it had to recruit for. With so many talented young people and so few opportunities, offering a few jobs can often create more division in a neighborhood. There is always suspicion that someone is hiring their friends or family members, a phenomenon called moun pa. But DloHaiti was transparent with its hiring process, holding community meetings, putting out flyers, checking references. More than 70 people applied, but the hiring process was so transparent that amazingly, when I checked in a few days later, there were no complaints from people who didn't get selected.
There are still many challenges ahead - but so far, DloHaiti is making remarkable progress. As I am writing this blog, the construction team is almost finished with the water kiosk, despite hearing gunshots almost every day. At this point, many other enterprises would have pulled out and left, investing the much-needed resources elsewhere. But DloHaiti is sticking it out. As the security situation continues to degenerate in the rest of Cite Soleil, the stakes are higher than ever - but so will the payoffs if DloHaiti can bring in new services and economic opportunities to Bwa Nef.
This is the vicious cycle that needs to be broken: Cite Soleil needs economic opportunity to build peace, but violence prevents economic opportunity from entering the neighborhoods. DloHaiti is making a small but important step to breaking that cycle.
Louino Robillard, MA
Community consultant of DloHaiti