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Quake Leaves Haitians Scrambling For Fewer Jobs

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Quake Leaves Haitians Scrambling For Fewer Jobs

Latin America

Quake Leaves Haitians Scrambling For Fewer Jobs

Quake Leaves Haitians Scrambling For Fewer Jobs

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/123027243/123035450" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Dennis Jeanne Evena, 27, is among a large crowd of people who have gathered on a busy street in Port-au-Prince in search of a job. She keeps busy writing a list of job seekers' names, contact information and skills — even though the usefulness of the list is debatable. Tamara Keith/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Tamara Keith/NPR

Haiti was already the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, with an unemployment rate estimated at about 70 percent. Since the Jan. 12 earthquake, the privation has deepened significantly.

Throughout Port-au-Prince, people are frantically searching for work. Many in Haiti say the economy needs to be rebuilt and remade, right along with all the shattered buildings.

On a busy street near the airport, about 200 people, mostly young men, have gathered hoping to find jobs.

Dennis Jeanne Evena, 27, stands out, in part because she is a woman wearing a skirt in a sea of men. She says she is helping make a list of those looking for work.

Others are doing the same. It almost looks like they are filling out job applications — only there aren't any jobs. Evena says a man told her to make the list, that perhaps he could get them hired.

"I am searching for a job. And because I can write, I am just writing for some people. So I write our names and our numbers, what we do, so if in case they want us, they [can] contact us," Evena says.

But the task she's performing with such purpose seems to be a futile exercise. The man who asked her to take the names — Nelson Nerva — doesn't even have a job himself.

"We started to create the list, but no one said we should create the list," Nerva says.

He admits the list is wishful thinking, that his only plan is to hand it to some U.N. soldiers stationed nearby in hopes they will do something with it.

"We just hear that foreigners came and they [were seeking] people that can help, that can do something, so we just keep searching for jobs," he says.

At an industrial park in another part of Port-au-Prince, the scene is frantic. About 100 men are yelling and pushing up against a fence outside a T-shirt factory. A crack in the building is so large that you can see inside.

No one seems to know if the factory will reopen or whether the quake-damaged building is safe.

Garment factory manager Florrisant Jameson, 25, was at work Jan. 12 when the earthquake struck. He, his wife and two daughters are living in a tent while he searches for work. Marisa Penaloza/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Marisa Penaloza/NPR

Yet 45-year-old Marcelin Gesson wants to work there. He has come to the site every day for the past five days hoping to find work or at least some food. And he says he'll keep coming.

Gesson hasn't had a job in six months, but his search is more urgent than before.

"We know the factory doesn't pay people well, but we're still here to see if they can take us in. We have families and children to feed. We are just looking for something," Gesson says.

Before the quake, workers at the factory made just $4 a day, and some complained they hadn't been paid in a month. Despite the conditions, the garment industry was one of the bright spots in the Haitian economy.

Florrisant Jameson, 25, was at work as a manager at a factory that made pants when the quake hit.

"I saw a wall come down and ran out, and some people were already injured. I had the chance to run out quickly," Jameson says.

His job prospects crumbled right along with the factory. Like so many, Jameson says he needs a job to buy food for his family, and eventually, to rebuild.

"Things are really hard. I don't have a house; it collapsed. I have a cousin that was living with me, and he got injured — his legs broke. My wife and two girls are fine, but we're living in streets in a tent," he says.

Jameson is wearing dark-washed jeans, a New York baseball cap and headphones around his neck. His sharp all-American outfit belies the desperation.

"I desperately need a job; that's why I go out to find one to bring food. When I leave in the morning, I tell my wife I'm going out to look for work. I don't know what I'll find," he says.

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