No social and political changes can be achieved without the men and women who dedicate their lives to the improvement of their communities’ living conditions. Ricot Jean-Pierre is one of them. As the program director of our partner the Haitian Platform to Advocate for Alternative Development (PAPDA), Ricot works restlessly to better the lives of Haitians and the country itself – a fight he started at a very young age.
Ricot lived his early years under the violence of the Duvalier dictatorship. Very close friends of his and family members including his father directly experienced violence and repression. As Ricot explains, that’s when he first began to think that “there was something wrong, that something needed to be fixed.” The overthrow of Duvalier made it possible for social movements to be grow (even though the political climate was still somewhat hostile).
This is when Ricot, aged 16, and some of his friends decided to help address the issues faced by the people living in their neighborhood. They set up an activist support network. This initiative also led Ricot to begin reflecting on the political and social system that allowed so much misery and violence to happen.
Later, Ricot decided to take his involvement to the national level by moving to Port-au-Prince. There, he studied at the university with the goal of getting involved in wider movements, developing his political knowledge and getting trained to be an organizer. He participated in and organized many social movements despite the repressive climate of the post-1991 coup era – a time when activists were considered subversive and exiled, deported or thrown in prison.
Determined to influence the government’s policies, Ricot participated in social work research and action groups. It is also at the university that Ricot met the founder of PAPDA, Camille Chalmers, who was one of his professors.
A coalition of Haitian popular and non-governmental organizations, PAPDA has earned an international reputation as the only Haitian NGO that has both a well-researched and documented critique of neoliberal economic policies and a concrete set of alternatives to those policies.
The aftermath of the 2010 earthquake showed how much still needs to be done in terms of social justice in Haiti. However, this does not discourage Ricot. As he told us, “As long as there will be life, there will be struggles to be lead, and as long as there will be struggles, I will be there.” He added that he does not plan on stopping his involvement in these struggles to rest before “I am in my grave.”
Ricot chose to join PAPDA because he sees the organization as a fundamental space allowing people to fully express themselves and to build an alternative future and society, or as he says, “something new, through grassroots movements.” PAPDA matched Ricot’s vision of a Haiti which is “socially just, ecologically viable, and fully incorporates popular participation’ in the country’s political process.”
According to Ricot, what makes a partner like Grassroots International valuable is its activism. Grassroots, he points out, does not simply fund PAPDA’s programs, but also raises awareness in the US regarding the challenges faces by the Haitians. This work is important because he strongly believes that it takes many actors and voices to build a better Haiti. For Ricot, the key to social change is solidarity amongst people of all nations, and Grassroots International contributes to that.
Johanna Kougbeadjo has been volunteering at Grassroots International since February 2016. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Rennes 1 University in France and will start to work on her Master’s degree in Political Science next fall.