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Communities and the community-based approach in Haiti

From 19 August to 21 September 2012, Groupe URD’s Haiti Observatory conducted a study on the “community-based approach” and the notion of “community” in Haiti. Conducted by Alice Corbet, an anthropologist, the study raised a number of questions about the community-based approach which is applied in numerous projects in urban environments: Is it always necessary? How should it be implemented? What are its advantages and its pitfalls? Due to the need to review definitions, the study also looks at the different levels of community in Haiti and analyses the notion of community historically, socially and culturally. The report combines social and operational approaches and contains analysis and recommendations. It was put online on the Observatory website in November 2012.

Communities in Haiti are based on three main areas: family, neighbourhood and religion [1]. The family is a necessary community foundation: its rhythm is organised around the head of the family and the lakou [2], a communal living space where everyday activities take place. The lakou has several dimensions: social and organisational (it is the place where meals are prepared…), cultural and symbolic (the head of the lakou is very respected, and it is inhabited by the spirits, the bodies of certain people are buried within it…), etc. Neighbourhood relations, which are necessary both socially and economically, sometimes lead to relations of solidarity which are so important that “vwasen se fanmi / vwazinay se janmi” [3]. Lastly, religious practice creates a community of belief with its specific social events and common practices. But these solidarity relations are generally relatively loose: communities of belief do not always signify actual solidarity. These three levels lead to self-regulation by maintaining a certain level of equality between people’s standard of living [4].

[1] The majority of historical and anthropo-sociological works on Haiti refer to these three fundamental areas, notably the reference works of Georges Anglade.

[2] From « la cour », as rural lakous are organised around a central courtyard.

[3] Le voisin c’est la famille / le voisinage c’est les amis - Neighbours are family/ the neighbourhood is freinds.

[4] According to Gérard Barthélémy, Haitian society regulates itself in order to control the emergence of economic disparity which would create a social hiatus and the emergence of a state which monopolised certain activities which would then not be subject to grassroots control. Barthélémy speaks of a “culture of resistance” and a “contention strategy” which produces a “social consensus”. See L’univers rural haïtien, le pays en dehors, L’Harmattan, 1991