Cash for Work helps Haitians rebuild

Marketplace Staff Feb 17, 2010

Cash for Work helps Haitians rebuild

Marketplace Staff Feb 17, 2010

CORRECTION: The original version of this feature misidentified the location of the Mercy Corps’ headquarters. It is in Portland,Ore. It also gave an incorrect title for Manuel Orozco. He is director of the remittances and development program at the Inter-American Dialogue. The script has been corrected.


Kai Ryssdal: The president of France took a tour of Port-au-Prince today. Nicolas Sarkozy said afterward the French government’s giving Haiti $400 million in disaster relief. It’ll help pay for reconstruction and emergency assistance. But there are a lot of ways assistance money gets spent on the ground. It goes for food. And water. Medical care. And sometimes jobs.

From Port-au-Prince, Sabri Ben-Achour explains.

Sabri Ben-Achour: In the court yard of one Port-au-Prince primary school, there’s a small secluded tent city.

Jean Remont lives there, under a sheet and a few sticks. Using a very worn looking shovel, he’s scooping away rubble.

You have to clean up where you live, he says. He’s been working since 6 a.m., so has Danielle Mislo.

A lot of people want this job, she says. I’m happy to have it, but I have so many problems, my house is gone, my kids are sick. It’s not enough, but it’s better than nothing.

Mislo and Remont — and couple hundred other people — have this job thanks to Mercy Corps, a Portland, Ore.-based aid organization.

CAROL WARD: The idea really is to get money into people’s pockets.

Carol Ward is running this pilot project. It’s a type of foreign aid called Cash for Work, and it’s just that — people get cash for doing some kind of useful work like clearing rubble or a little bit later on actually rebuilding buildings.

WARD: They’re working their hearts out, bless them.

Haiti’s unemployment rate was already above 50 percent before the earthquake, so the demand for work is staggering.

Bill Holbrooke is the Haiti country director for Mercy Corps.

BILL HOLBROOKE: You can show up on any street corner in any spontaneous settlement, and you’ll find a very, very long line of individuals, survivors who are anxious to go to work.

But cash for work is also about training.

HOLBROOKE: There is a very large and unacceptable percentage of people who are unemployable. They don’t have job skills that are marketable.

Construction is where the training will start says Holbrooke, given the immense rebuilding task ahead in Haiti.

HOLBROOKE: There are meaningful, long-term jobs in the construction sector that have very few qualified people to fill. And so we’ve gotta address that.

The World Food Program recently announced it was going to launch cash for work type programs as well. They’d hire about 100,000 people.

Manuel Orozco is director of the remittances and development program at the Inter-American Dialogue.

MANUEL OROZCO: Cash for work, I think, it’s just very important in Haiti, because of the large unemployment rate.

It has to be sustained over a couple years Orozco says so workers gain different skills.

OROZCO: So that when the program ends they can actually be absorbed by the private sector. It does have a positive impact.

Orozco is adamant about that last part, transitioning to the private sector. If NGO’s don’t pay attention, they could put the local construction industry out of business down the road.

OROZCO: If you make it a widespread process, it will have distortions in the national markets because it does compete with the demand for local labor.

For now the goal is to get people back on their feet, and back at the primary school tent settlement Antoinette Nesto hopes it will do just that.

This is a good job for me, she says, but I used to be in business. I’d buy and sell at the market. Then I lost all my merchandise in the earthquake.

For now, she’ll keep sweeping rubble. Maybe, she says, she’ll make a little bit of money in the hope of one day starting up her business again.

From Port-au-Prince, I’m Sabri Ben-Achour for Marketplace.

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