Louino Robillard is committed to cultivating the seeds of the future – whether it’s the fledgling trees he and his wife re-planted on the deforested slopes around the village where he was born, or the promising young leaders struggling every day to make life better in Haiti.
The Haitian activist knows what it feels like to have his voice ignored. He understands the discouragement and exhaustion, even cynicism, of a young person whose big ideas for creating change go overlooked and unheeded.
“I’ve seen young people whose dreams of changing Haiti turn into dreams of getting out of Haiti,” he said. “And it pains me to see our best and brightest beaten down like this.”
Louino himself overcame these odds, fueled by a deep sense of purpose and a few “small but important pushes” from people who saw his potential. Tired of seeing outsiders – the government, international nonprofits, the United Nations – make all the decisions in his community, he mobilized other young people in Cite Solei, Haiti’s largest ghetto, to take matters into their own hands and transform the area into a place where both culture and community thrive.
And now he wants to do the same for other young leaders across Haiti, young people who have energy, passion and bright ideas for creating change, and just need a little push to make it happen. Louino is a member of the Youth Environmental Hub, a unique partnership between Levi Strauss & Co. and The Pollination Project built on the belief that nobody knows local communities like the change-makers who already live there. He and the other fellows are in charge of a pool of small grants – not to fund their own projects, but to distribute to other young environmentalists.
The small grants “allow us to cut past all of the bureaucracy and red tape and reach young people directly,” he said. “Not only that, but we listen to their ideas, help them develop their initiatives, and invest in their dreams. That is the most important thing: We are validating these young people as actual leaders with our trust, our time and our small investments.”
The young leaders Louino has tapped so far include:
- Samuel Cadet: “A young leader in Bwa Nef, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Cite Soleil, who was already working to turn an abandoned, trash-infected piece of land into a flourishing urban garden. He had done all of the first steps with his own energy and local contributions and established a small garden, but he was beginning to get discouraged.”
- Winter Luc: “I had [Cadet] partner with Winter Luc, another young person running a community school in his neighborhood, to develop an initiative that would expand the urban garden and teach Winter’s students hands-on lessons about plants, nature, and the environment.”
- Jesula: “A young woman who volunteers at a youth center called SAKALA, which uses sports and arts and gardening to teach peace and coexistence. She had just learned about vertical gardening, a technique to cultivate food and recycle food waste that is ideal for dense urban areas like Cite Soleil. She was so excited about what she learned that she wanted to share this idea with other women across the community. I worked with her to develop this into a TPP proposal, and she felt so validated that her ideas were not only listened to, but that someone would be willing to invest in them.”
- Elson Auquel: “A bright young student in Port au Prince who is working with a youth group in his rural hometown to develop a sort of summer camp/exchange program to help rural youth reconnect with their land, learn sustainable farming techniques, and plan for the future of their community.”
- Paulinx Louis: “An impressive young person who is helping his rural hometown to launch a massive reforestation campaign.”
“It will take young people who have faith in themselves and the future to commit themselves to Haiti’s environment over the course of a lifetime,” Louino said. “And The Pollination Project, with the support of Levi Strauss & Co., is helping to start them down this path.”
A Personal Path Forward
Growing up in what Louino called a “very complex and often violent urban world,” he avoided many personal pitfalls, focusing instead on his education and emerging as a young leader. Inspired to devote his life to social change after the devastating 2010 earthquake that brought the world’s attention to Haiti, Louino got his Master’s degree in Community Change and Peacebuilding, and traveled the world learning from community change activists.
He co-founded Konbit Soley Leve, a network of community groups working to change Cite Soileil. He also started Fondasyon Ginen, an initiative bent on finding solutions to deforestation in Haiti funded by another grant from The Pollination Project. He created a community park in his birthplace, where young people can learn to become environmental stewards. And he started the “Cite Soleil Peace Prize,” honoring young people who are making a difference and striving for change under difficult conditions.
“He is committed to a world where people are the agents of change who can lift themselves up without having to wait for government help,” wrote Selene Gonzales-Carillo, a fellow member of the Youth Environment Hub. “Although some might call him ‘crazy’ for these dreams, he knows that he is in good company as a member of The Pollination Project’s Youth Environmental team. Crazy is only crazy because of its novelty, because it dares to dream of a different world where violence is not the norm, poverty is not systemic, and our mother earth is not destroyed. In this sense we all could use a little more ‘crazy’ in our lives.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: With the recent devastation in Haiti by Hurricane Matthew, Louino, who is safe, shared his thoughts on how the community came together during the storm, and the challenges that they face in the aftermath.