Cite Soleil gets its own Eiffel Tower

By now I’ve mentioned Cite Soleil, the most notorious slum of Port-a-Prince, a few times. While it is widely thought to be a dangerous place, a movement has started in recent months by the people of Cite Soleil to change its bad reputation. People have banded together to clean up the streets – the first time I went to Cite Soleil months ago was to the neighborhood known as La Difference, and I actually remember thinking that it was “cute” with its clean, narrow streets and squished-together houses. There is another neighborhood in Cite Soleil known as Paris, and recently a few of its residents constructed a miniature Eiffel Tower. This writeup (written by a friend, Aimee Gaines) describes the whole process really well, up until the tower’s official inauguration on January 29.

A social movement is quietly underway in the notorious slum of Cite Soleil. This movement, known as Konbit Soley Leve (Rising Sun Collective), began 8 months ago with the vision to mobilize Cite Soleil residents to change the image and reality of life in the Cite using their own resources. The greatest resource in Cite Soleil is, no doubt, human energy, and they have indeed put it to work.

The movement began with a voluntary street-cleaning campaign. With what little tools and materials they had, groups of people all across Cite Soleil began picking up garbage and creating their own trash cans out of used buckets, bottles and old television sets. The beautification then developed further into the whitewashing and painting of houses, the planting of trees and flowers and the installation of street lights, all with the pooled resources of community members.

As each neighborhood started to take on a new, brighter, cleaner and, thus, safer image, they each began baptizing their neighborhoods with a new name, symbolizing their vision. One community leader, a tough guy named Claude, chose the name “Paris” for his block in Ti Ayiti for its clean, beautiful and lively streets. The name stuck and the common joke was that the only thing missing was the Eiffel Tower.

A couple of ambitious, French volunteers at Haiti Communitere caught word of this and were determined to help make their dream come true. Finally, after about a month of planning and collecting scrap materials (rebar and metal piping), the Eiffel Tower project began. Volunteer Phillip Cregg, a skilled welder and Texas A&M construction science student, took on the challenge with full force, helping to draw up the plans and train some Soley Leve guys in welding. The guys worked in the Haiti Communitere workshop just about every day until the tower was finished.

The finished Eiffel Tower, at almost 3.5 meters tall, was installed on the roof of the outdoor stage in Paris on Sunday, January 29. Hundreds of people gathered and danced as music blared and the Eiffel Tower of Cite Soleil lit up the skyline.

Working on the tower at the Haiti Communitere workshop

The finished product (minus paint)

The event was a great time. As the sun went down, the tower’s lights were turned on and everyone gathered around it as a DJ blasted music. At any given moment I had 2-10 kids surrounding me, holding my hands, petting my arms, playing with my hair, or just hugging me around my waist as tight as they possibly could. Most of my friends who I was there with were dancing with the kids, but I couldn’t because I was completely unable to move. Oh well, such is life. Glad I could entertain them for a minute without actually doing anything!

Cite Soleil should be proud of their new Eiffel Tower. They did a great job, and did I mention that it was hoisted up to where it sits now with ropes and ladders?

One Response to “Cite Soleil gets its own Eiffel Tower”
  1. cute haircut! you’re getting blonder and blonder!

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