Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Konbit Bibliyotek Project

#KonbitBibliyotek is a community crowdfunding campaign started by Haitian community activists affiliated with Future Generations with the goal of building a library in Cite Soleil, which is Haiti’s largest ghetto. By combining Haitian traditions, such as konbit (cooperative communal labor), with the modern tools of social media, this initiative has spread like wildfire across Cite Soleil and beyond! To date, it has already brought more than 3000 people together to raise around $12,500, with 3,641 books collected. Keep reading to find out how this movement evolved and why it's so important...


Cite Soleil is a municipality that lies on the northwestern edge of Port au Prince, Haiti’s capital city. As mentioned above, it is known as Haiti’s largest ghetto. Cite Soleil has experienced a vicious cycle of political and gang violence, which leads to economic and social marginalization, which in turn creates the conditions for more violence. The stigma associated with Cite Soleil is significant, which not only reinforces the social isolation of the community,  but has been internalized by many of its young people who see that society only expects them to grow up to be criminals.

However, the vast majority of people living in Cite Soleil are ordinary people trying to make an honest life for themselves and their families. Cite Soleil is full of young people with talent, potential, and dreams of a better future. Over the past six years, a social movement named Konbit Soley Leve has dedicated itself to identifying, strengthening, and highlighting all that is positive about Cite Soleil, and working to change the image that the world as of this community. In the past year and a half, there has actually been a truce between the major gangs of Cite Soleil, leading to an unprecedented period of peace that the community would like to build on.

The Library Story

In early 2017, a group of young artists and intellectuals in Cite Soleil decided that it was important to build a library in Cite Soleil. Over the past decade, there had been a lot of investment in youth spaces, but these spaces were mostly for sports. They brought the idea to Konbit Soley Leve, who advised them that instead of writing a proposal to a donor, they should first look for support in their own community. They should give ordinary people in Cite Soleil the opportunity to participate in making this dream a reality, that they should be the first donors. So Konbit Soley Leve and the youth group began to go door to door with a cardboard box, asking for contributions. 

For the sake of transparency, each time someone contributes, the donor would take a

selfie and post it on Facebook with the hashtag #KonbitBibliyotek. The funds are counted every Sunday at the local radio station, where everyone was welcome to observe. At the end of the weekly count, a progress statement would be circulated on social media. 

The campaign went viral. People across Cite Soleil, many living on less than $2 a day, began to donate, then across Port au Prince, then Haiti, then the world. Schoolchildren gave up their lunch money, strangers who overheard about the project on public transport asked to contribute. A volunteer once drove all the way from Port au Prince to Les Cayes (an eight-hour round trip) just to pick up a single gourde that a little boy wanted to contribute. The idea was to change the perception of who is a donor and who is a beneficiary, and give people a chance to participate in a community vision.

Progress to Date

After 25 weeks of fundraising, 3,123 individual donors have contributed 1,080,771 gourdes  (approximately $12,432 USD), and 3,641 books. 

An architect from Cite Soleil has designed the plan of the library, which is a grand vision. It is important that the library be an impressive building because people in Cite Soleil are tired of being treated as second-class citizens – they believe they deserve a first-class library. The library may cost as much as 10 times as much as has been raised so far – but given the remarkable success to date and how much the community believes in this vision, there is confidence that the library will be built.

Help has come in many forms. The local authorities in Cite Soleil have already dedicated a space for the library in Place Fierte – the public park in the heart of Cite Soleil. Young Haitians have volunteered to provide graphic design and marketing services, to produce promotional songs and videos. A company performed the land survey for free (which would have otherwise cost $7000), and a construction company has volunteered to build the library without payment. There are already commitments for, once the library is built, furniture, free internet, and language classes. There are groups that have volunteered to train young librarians for free.

This project is called Konbit Bibliyotek for a reason, because it leverages the principles behind the traditional Haitian practice of Konbit: if everyone contributes what they can, we can collectively achieve what no one could achieve alone. The community has already done so much and gone so far – and it is now looking for more friends and allies to join in, and help turn this dream into a reality.

The Impact

If this dream is realized, it will mean many things. First, it will provide an accessible space to promote learning, research, and debate in the heart of Cite Soleil; this will become a new center to provide community services. Second, it will help to change the image of Cite Soleil, both to young people in the community and to the rest of the world. Third, it will provide a new model of community-driven development and a statement of how Haitians can lead the way to a different future.

A community-led effort to build a library in the heart of Cite Soleil is important in several ways: on a practical level, it provides an accessible, neutral space for young people to further their studies, have educational discussions, and learn research and computer skills. It also encourages inter-neighborhood friendships. On a symbolic level, the community is claiming space to promote nonviolence and education; the process itself brings neighborhoods together around a common vision of education.

Ultimately, the project will help to shift perceptions inside and outside of Cite Soleil. Young people in Cite Soleil will see the value their community places in education, which will encourage them to stay in school (along with practical supports the library provides). A prominent community-supported library will also challenge external stigma about Cite Soleil. All of this will help promote social integration, empowerment, and future employment for Cite Soleil's youth.

How You Can Help:

• Share the story. It’s important for people to know that this is happening, as it will help to change the image of Cite Soleil

• If you are in Haiti, contact to arrange a visit to the library site, or to arrange dropping off books or making a donation.

• If you are outside of Haiti, you can contribute through our Global Giving site:
• If you have any expertise, connections, or services to offer in support of this vision, contact

For more on Konbit Bibliyotek, check out


Louino Robillard is a Haitian community leader who was raised in Cite Soleil, Haiti's largest ghetto. He has co-founded the Konbit Soley Leve movement, the Cite Soleil Peace Prize, and many other grassroots social change initiatives across Haiti. He graduated from the Future Generations Graduate School in 2013 with a Master's in Applied Community Change and Peacebuilding.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Future Generations University teams up with AmeriCorps West Virginia!

Volunteer in an Appalachian community while earning a Master’s degree... That's the vision that Future Generations University has been pursuing for the past 2 years and is now excited to finally begin this fall with a small pilot class. Working in partnership with AmeriCorps West Virginia and its associated organizations (Volunteer West Virginia, High Rocks, and the Appalachian Forest Heritage Area), Future Generations University will craft a unique learning experience focused on Appalachia while building upon our proven and tested pedagogy and curriculum... 

Volunteerism can be a gateway to higher education. In exchange for two years of community service with West Virginia's AmeriCorps, volunteers are now eligible to receive a Master's Degree in Applied Community Change.

“We’re so excited to share the news that Future Generations University will leverage AmeriCorps service and the Eli Segal Education Awards to attract and keep young talent in West Virginia,” said Heather Foster, Executive Director of Volunteer West Virginia. “As we look to the future, AmeriCorps provides an important opportunity to continue engaging people of all ages in solving problems through service and volunteerism.”

In exchange for a year of service, AmeriCorps volunteers receive an education award of $5800 per year, living-allowance of approximately $12,000, and work experience. Future Generations University will match the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award dollar for dollar. With a $23,200 scholarship possible, AmeriCorps volunteers could complete the program for as little as $1,800. 

West Virginia ranks third in the Nation for producing AmeriCorps volunteers. Each year over 1,000 individuals serve as AmeriCorps members in the state. Many AmeriCorps volunteers serve in their hometowns, while others come from across the country to make West Virginia their home for the year. AmeriCorps members change lives through mentoring, respond to disasters -like the June 2016 flooding, increase access to healthy and local food, preserve historic properties, and many conservation activities working with state agencies and non-profit entities alike.  

“With 25 years of experience building community capacity and preparing change agents worldwide, Future Generations University is very excited to extend a one of a kind opportunity to our home state of West Virginia! Through this innovative partnership with AmeriCorps West Virginia, we are working with the most dedicated organizations and individuals to offer an unparalleled education to communities in the greatest need,” said Luke Taylor-Ide, Regional Academic Director for Future Generations University.

Read on for an overview of the program!

Curriculum Overview
Introduction to Social ChangeIntroduction to various schools of thought regarding community change and development, with a focus on methodologies for local,
sustainable social change. 

Volunteer ManagementSkills-based course on effective recruitment, training, and management of volunteers for project and field managers working in non-profit organizations.

Community LeadershipExploration of leadership styles and strategies for application in groups, organizations, and communities, with an emphasis on leadership development.

Communications for Community ChangeApplied course that surveys various communications platforms and practices and asks students to cultivate skills for effective and persuasive communication.

Financial Administration & Non-Profit ManagementOrganizational management skills and strategies for making effective plans & partnerships as well as basic financial project and program management.

Healthy People, Healthy CommunitiesExamine the intersections between poverty, primary healthcare, and community change, with a focus on finding people-based solutions using available resources.

Community-based Natural Resource ManagementCouples natural resource management & conservation methodologies with approaches to promoting sustainable livelihoods & local ownership.

Advanced Seminar on Applied Community ChangeExamine the challenges and processes of scaling up positive impact to larger regions and/or populations.

Project-based Research in Community
In order to maximize the amount of credits associated with each member’s experiences learning by doing while participating in AmeriCorps service, students enrollment in the MA program will complete continuous Project-based Research (PRC) in their host communities with direct mentorship from faculty culminating in a capstone product that documents their individual learning in an Appalachian community.
· Students complete independently designed projects and research in community with faculty mentorship
· Each term’s Project-based Research is showcased in an online ePortfolio demonstrating formative learning process
· Upon completion of the program, students have a comprehensive portfolio documenting their summative learning journey for their graduate studies

Term 1: Graduate Study Foundations—Establishes the conceptual principles and skills
upon which the curriculum is built. Students discover what it means to be a self-directed learner and master Learning Management and ePortfolio software—tools for critical thinking, analytical inquiry, and reflective practice.  

Term 2: Social Research Methods—Demonstrate through project-based research an understanding of and apply concepts and approaches to both quantitative and qualitative community-based data collection and analysis.

Term 3: Monitoring & Evaluation—Conceptual framework and practical skills for monitoring and evaluating community-based projects, reflecting with peers on circumstances and parameters related to the assessment of different social and development projects.

Term 4: Synthesis & Integration—Analyze results of Project-based Research in community from both summative and formative perspectives within ePortfolio. Students are challenged to incorporate lessons learned during their MA studies with experiential-based reflection on AmeriCorps service.


About Volunteer West Virginia
An agency of the West Virginia Department of Education and the Arts, Volunteer West Virginia is the state’s Commission for National and Community Service. The agency challenges West Virginians to strengthen their communities through service and volunteerism by identifying and mobilizing resources, promoting an ethic of service, and empowering communities to solve problems and improve the quality of life for individuals and families. To learn more about AmeriCorps in West Virginia visit


Visit to learn more about this exciting and innovative program. Sound like a good fit for you? Enrollment is still open! Applications are being accepted and reviewed on a rolling basis through August 21st.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Maple Sap Collection and Syrup Processing in WV

In 2014, after leaving his “deanship” at the Future Generations Graduate School, Mike Rechlin, a forester by training, returned to woods of West Virginia and soon found himself in sort of a sticky mess, requiring long hours at night and creating plenty of steam. Now, I know what kind of mess you’re thinking about, given West Virginia’s reputation for making moonshine, but this time what was evaporating was not corn mash, but tree sap, and the sticky mess was MAPLE SYRUP... 

Sap dripping on a good run

In his post deanship years, Mike helped to establish the Dry Fork Maple Works, West Virginia’s largest maker of maple syrup, and further helped to organize the West Virginia Maple Syrup Producers Association. Now Mike is bringing it all back home to North Mountain with a research agenda to help increase the productivity of West Virginia maple producers. 

Collecting sap at Principia College
Maple Syrup in West Virginia?  Doesn’t that stuff come from Vermont?  Good question, and the answer is, well, yes.  Ever since the marketing of “Vermont Maid”, an imitation maple syrup product, Vermont has been the state most closely associated with maple syrup.  That being said, Quebec Canada is actually the largest producer of the sweet syrupy substance.  And, Maine, New York, and Wisconsin are not far behind.  What is less well known, is that West Virginia actually has more tappable sugar maple trees than Vermont, and a history of sugaring.  All across the state there are place names like Sugar Grove, Sugar Creek and Sugar Valley, places with a history of making maple syrup.  The last five years has seen resurgence in interest in “sugaring,” and the establishment of new sugar camps.

Main lines bringing sap to the sugarhouse
at the Dry Fork Maple Works
So, how does this fit with Future Generations?  For starters, Future Generations will be leading research efforts, funded through the WV Department of Agriculture, which will be looking at management practices designed to increase the production of maple syrup in Appalachia.  Our climate, soils, and the way we manage the sap production process are all   different from those of our colleagues up north in the New England states.   The research we will be conducting will be a local adaptation of existing practices, and a climate change adaptation of those practices as the effects of global warming take hold.

Typical environmental conditions in  a sugarbush
Future Generations is also working with the Department of Agriculture’s Veterans and Warriors in Agriculture Program to offer a certificate course titled “Maple Sap Collection and Syrup Production,” while designed to meet the needs of veterans, this course will be open to anyone wanting to get into the maple business.  

The goal of our work is to expand the maple syrup industry in West Virginia, and to design management strategies that increase sap production, which of course increases profitability for our local producers.  Increased production of a local, natural, and sustainably grown product from our abundant forest resources means economic development for rural communities, and that leads to community change.  True, we are not applying SEED-SCALE directly to the measure of invert sugars in tree sap, but the result of that research will be knowledge that can lead to improvements in the lives of  our friends and neighbors; and that is certainly in line with our work at Future Generations.

Whoever said that that 2.5% is the sweetest thing in a sap bucket?

For more on the Maple Syrup Collection & Syrup Processing Certificate, please visit:


Mike Rechlin has practiced sustainable foresty and protected areas management in the United States, Nepal, India, and Tibet for thirty years. He has extensive teaching experience and has designed educational programs for many international groups visiting the Adirondack Park of New York State. Presently retired, Mike has held academic appointments at Principia College, Paul Smith's College, and the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. He served as the dean of Future Generations Graduate School from 2010 to 2013. He presently resides, and makes maple syrup, in Franklin, WV.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Bridging the Gap: Peace Development Between the Leprosy-Affected Community and Surrounding Community in Addis Ababa

In 2017, Fisseha Getahun was one of 120 people awarded a Davis Projects for Peace Prize in order to implement a project to help those affected with leprosy in his community in the capital of Ethiopia, entitled: Peace Development between Leprosy Affected and Surrounding Communities. He saw his project as an answer to Kathryn Davis' call to find ways to "prepare for peace" and to help those most in need where he lives. This made him the tenth student from Future Generations University to receive this award in the past seven years. In this week's blog post, he shares some background on his project with us.

Fisseha with community representatives from the leprosy-affected
community and non-leprosy-affected surrounding community

The concept of the project came about from my work with those with leprosy in affected communities. In many countries, people affected by leprosy face a number of social and economic problems, such as discrimination and stigma. These issues are even worse for individuals who experience disability due to leprosy. They are more vulnerable to the endless stigma and discrimination than any other form of disability in our society.

Even after someone with leprosy has been cured, they're unable to lead an ordinary life due to the consequences of lingering complications. Some of the most difficult complications experienced are they forced to live as a colony in specific area and they did not get access for education. As a result of the wide misconceptions that exist about leprosy, many of those affected are forced to leave their birth places and live in segregated groups, known as leprosy colonies. In the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, individuals who have been affected by leprosy are deliberately pushed out of the city and made to settle in a solid waste dumping site with no infrastructure and poor social services.

The leprosy-affected community of Addis Ababa is called the "Zenebework Community." The majority of early settlers in the area were leprosy victims who largely migrated here from various other parts of the country-- mainly Amhara, Tigray, Oromia, and SNNP regions. Their goal was to receive medical treatment for their leprosy at ALERT (All African Leprosy Rehabilitation and Training Centre) Hospital, formerly known as Zenebework Hospital.

After treatment, the leprosy victims were supposed to go back to their place of origin, as direct by the government, but the majority of them refused, preferring to remain in this area where they'd received treatment. This resulting settlement was named after the Zenebework Hospital, which had been established in 1932 and named after Princess Zenebework, daughter to Emperor Haileselassie. In 1949, the Abune Aregawi/Gebre Kristos Church was established in the same area, resulting in this name also being used for the locality. When construction began on the hospital in its present form as ALERT in 1967 and was later inaugurated in 1971, many other institutions, such as schools, followed. This provided a basic infrastructure that the leprosy victims had previously been completely without.

The Zenebework community was unique from its inception as it was a place predominantly inhabited by people afflicted with leprosy. Although family members of ex-leprosy victims are still migrating to this place, the trend has altered, and now people with disabilities have also started inhabiting this location. The community was a highly stigmatized one for many years, often discriminated against by the surrounding areas. Those living here were prohibited to have any contact with other communities of foreign visitors. Members of the Zenebework community were even denied the right to rear cattle or conduct other small businesses for their livelihood, as transmission of the disease to other healthy communities was feared. Nursus and other medical professionals, even the clergy and priests, refused to provide professional and spiritual services there. The establishment of the Koshe garbage dumping site in 1954 in this area further added to the poor image of the Zenebework community.

However, this has changed somewhat recently, and there is less stigma in modern days than existed previously. Although the trend is working on reversing, all of those living in the leprosy colony are still often perceived as less than human and there is still much work to be done. Their livelihood depends on begging and collecting food from the waste dumping site, and they are severely marginalized and banned from entering adjacent non-leprosy affected communities.      

Although I came from a non-leprosy-affected family and grew up hearing the negative stereotypes, I had worked as a professional in a leprosy-affected community for four years. During this time, I was initially discriminate against by friends, family, other relatives, and neighbors as the only non-leprosy affected member of the leprosy community. Gradually, however, I changed their attitudes about leprosy and the leprosy affected-community for the better.

My purpose with the Davis Peace Prize has been to continue bridging the gap between the leprosy-affected community, which has been traditionally marginalized in the very worst of ways, and the larger surrounding community. To contribute to the peace and understanding between the leprosy-affected community and the surrounding communities, I incorporated plans geared towards inclusiveness and holistic development. Through this, the local mindset and correction of misconceptions would follow.

Below is an outline of the expected outcomes and major activities set in place to bring about this objective:

Expected Outcomes

Surrounding communities experience behavioral change in their attitudes and practices toward leprosy affected individuals such that community integration is improved

Increase common institutional memberships among leprosy and non leprosy communities

Improved social relations among leprosy and non leprosy communities
Utilization of services at common points is increased

Major Activities

Training of Trainers: Training on conflict management and resolution will be conducted for 20 community members including 10 leprosy affected, 10 non-leprosy affected community members. The participants will be influential male and female community and religious leaders who have the capacity to cascade the knowledge for their followers.

 Experience sharing: In addition, experience sharing for 10 community leaders will be facilitated. They will adopt and scale up the initial successes within their community to broader community contexts.

Prepare radio program:  Online national radio program is perhaps the best instrument to disseminate information and awareness among the general public. It helps to understand the truth of leprosy National radio program air time will be organized for the purpose of information dissemination and awareness creation. 

Organizing football match events: Football team will be organized the mix from both communities to integrate them and foot ball matches will be prepared by blending families of the community.

Panel discussions: A one day panel discussion with community members and professionals will be conducted to respond to community questions and to understand the truth about leprosy.

For more on Fisseha's project, be sure to visit:


Fisseha is an Ethiopian who has more than 15 years of proven and practical work experience in different organizations. He's worked in agricultural research institutes and both international and local NGOs, while holding different positions such as Research Technical Assistant, Development Facilitator, Project Officer, Program Coordinator, and Executive Director. He currently runs an NGO called Child of Present a Man of Tomorrow (CPMT) in Ethiopia, which works to promote the wellbeing of women and children. He is also presently studying a Master’s degree in Applied Community Change in Conservation concentration at Future Generations University to complement his backgrounds in agriculture, development and leadership.