Haitians Find Jobs Cleaning Streets Ahead of Vote

Next week's elections in Haiti may not bring stability to the nation — but the clean-up ahead of the vote is bringing something many Haitians desperately need: jobs. Amelia Shaw profiles the efforts of a Haitian organization hiring city residents to tidy up the streets in the capital of Port-au-Prince.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is Day to Day. I'm Madeline Brand. In a few minutes brining off-shore jobs back home. But first, Haiti is holding presidential elections next week. Many Haitians hope the new government will bring stability to that troubled country as well as a boost to the economy. Some organizations are trying to create jobs and clean the streets in some of Haiti's toughest neighborhoods. Amelia Shaw reports on one organization that's doing this with a little help from hip-hop.

AMELIA SHAW, reporting:

Rose Claire Blan(ph) gets up at dawn every morning. Wearing a yellow t-shirt and cap she walks through the streets with a wheelbarrow and a broom. She's one of the growing army of yellow shirted street cleaners seen everyday in Port-au-Prince.

Ms. ROSE CLAIRE BLAN (Street cleaner, Port-au-Prince): (Through Translator) I used to sell rice and used clothes in the market, but last year a thief robbed me of everything. So now I'm working for the country to clear garbage from the street.

SHAW: Rose Claire is part of a program called Clean Streets. The project is run by the Pan American Development Foundation or PADF with major funding from the U.S. government. The goal is to create jobs while at the same time reduce the mounds of smoldering garbage from the capital, particularly in the city slums of Lower Delma, Bell Aire, and Cite Soleil. PADF Director John Currelly says the project got its start after he himself was a victim of kidnapping a year ago. He was held for one night in the slum of Cite Soleil.

Mr. JOHN CURRELLY (Director, Pan American Development Foundation): When they found out my job and that we do development work and have several projects going they wanted to know why we didn't have projects inside Cite Soleil, which I found somewhat ironic considering I was there against my will as a kidnap victim.

SHAW: Gangs control the slum areas making them hotspots for violence and hiding places for kidnappers. Setting up projects in these areas is risky and many organizations have closed down their operations. The result is that the people most in need of social services, job programs, and help outreach are left to go with out.

Mr. CURRELLY: Very difficult. They are in a circumstance where they are isolated, much as Haiti has been for several centuries.

SHAW: Currelly says that a Clean Streets program was able to get into the slums and provide jobs with the help of Haitian born hip-hop artist Wyclef Jean and his organization YĆ©le Haiti. Wyclef's fame as a former Grammy winner with the Fugees has helped draw world attention to Haiti's poverty, notably with the visit of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt in January. But his star quality has also gained the confidence and protection of the gangs in the slums. According to Wyclef the partnership with PADF so far is a success.

Mr. WYCLEF JEAN (Hip-Hop Artist): I would say this combination is the combination which is approved by the ghetto. Like the ghetto feels that it's a great marriage and they feel it's positive and they want these streets clean. You know what I mean?

(Soundbite of music)

SHAW: Wyclef says hip-hop is an important part of the project. He worked with young aspiring musicians from the slums to create his CD, which is blasted on the city's multicolored buses called tap-taps. On the CD rappers beat about respecting the community by keeping it clean and by stopping violence. Music helps spread the word Wyclef says, but that won't be enough to stop the violence.

Mr. JEAN: The question is who's going to put some jobs in those communities to make people want to put down their arms. The Clean Streets project employs fourteen hundred people, paying them about two dollars a day. Haitian economist Kesner Farrell(ph) says, that while job programs like Clean Streets are definitely a good idea they are just a drop in the bucket.

Mr. KESNER FARRELL (Economist, Haiti): We've got right now more than 4 million Haitians who don't have one U.S. dollar a day. We've got more than 7 million Haitians who don't have like two U.S. dollars a day.

SHAW: As many as three-quarters of Haiti's population is unemployed. According to Farrell, pulling the country out of its economic quagmire means fixing the last two centuries of bad politics.

Mr. FARRELL: The first step is to get the political stability. We've got to put an end to all these (unintelligible) that could put an end to one person in the government trying to get the whole power, like monopolizing, dictatorship.

SHAW: Next week, Haiti's holding its first democratic election since former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was forced into exile nearly two years ago. Many, like Rose Claire, hope this will bring change.

Ms. BLAN: (Foreign language spoken)

SHAW: Rose Claire says she's happy she has her job because it betters the country, but she says the money just isn't enough. She's had to pull her six children out of school because she couldn't pay the fees. The country has no jobs, she says. And this is why she sweeps the streets. For NPR News, I'm Amelia Shaw in Port-au-Prince.

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