“Konbit Chanjman” – Community Change Groups at the Children’s Academy
Konbit Chanjman, which translates to Community Change Groups, are shaping the culture at the Children’s Academy and Learning Center in profound ways. Children of group members are growing up witnessing and participating in group accomplishments with great success.
“Konbit” is Haitian-Creole for a traditional form of cooperative communal labor. It grew out of necessity as Haitians who won freedom from slavery started with nothing and worked together to survive. They helped one another prepare their fields for planting, tend their gardens, create and improve roads and take on other community improvements. Today, it’s more likely that you might find Haitians participating in a konbit in rural Haiti as opposed to urban Haiti. Unfortunately, even in much of rural Haiti, the practice of konbit has become rare. Many believe that konbit culture is key if Haiti is to improve. We at Haiti Partners and the Children’s Academy are among them.
At the Children’s Academy, more than 550 parents and other community members are organized in konbit chanjman–community change groups–to both learn and work together. These groups were first organized to participate in training designed to strengthen families by teaching people about women’s and children’s rights. During the past seven years thousands in the community of the Children’s Academy have received this training which is facilitated through skillfully guided conversation during weekly meetings over the course of three to six months.
All 550 participants have decided to keep the conversations and learning going. In addition to working on these important issues around creating a culture that honors and protects women and children, the konbit chanjman have also added a Village Savings and Loans component. This means that they put their savings together and make loans to members. The groups are building their capacity to save, manage money and access capital for small business development and other family needs.
All combined, last year these groups collected from one another the equivalent of US$75,000 and made decisions together about loans to individual group members.
The majority of these groups meet weekly at the Children’s Academy, others meet elsewhere in the community. All groups are run autonomously. The fifth and six graders at the Children’s Academy–of their own initiative–constitute two groups.
The konbit practice has now been integrated into the Jaden Lakay or Home Gardens initiative. Each of 200 families–the families of students and staff–are receiving water catchment systems, seeds and agricultural technical assistance toward dramatically increasing the yields of their home gardens. Parents are working together, along with the agricultural technicians to prepare the earth and plant their gardens. The water catchment systems are also getting installed.
Since the founding of the school, parents who opt to place their children at the Children’s Academy are required to give four service hours a week at the school or in another form of community service. Parents work in the school gardens, help with composting latrine system, participate in hand papermaking process, and help in the classrooms. Their hours in helping one another with their gardens also count toward their four hours of required service. We don’t know what the outcome of all this will be. What we do know is that we’re witnessing konbit practices increasing among the Haitians in our community. It’s wonderful to see the collaboration, gratitude and excitement.