Leogane, Haiti. Armed with rudimentary tools and often barefoot, dozens of Haitians work to reinforce river beds. The work is hard, but it brings in much-needed money and prepares the community for the rainy season.
Along a stretch of riverbank almost a kilometer long, 10 teams of 20 people perform the same exhausting actions, turning over soil and extracting rocks under the boiling sun as they stand in muddy water.
They work with smiles, though, and some even sing, appearing happy to be among the thousands in quake-devastated Haiti participating in “Cash for Work” programs.
The men and women are residents of Leogane, a town some 40 kilometers west of Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince, much of which was destroyed by the Jan. 12 earthquake.
For them, the labor presents two opportunities: the chance to earn four or five dollars a day, while also working to ensure the large canal that often floods their homes — and this year threatens their tent refuges — will not overflow.
Gabriel Sanon has abandoned the land he farms to participate in the program for 20 days. In the three weeks employed in the program under the auspices of Acted, a French nongovernmental organization, he stands to earn as much as he ordinarily would in three months.
“When the rain falls, there are a lot of problems,” the 25-year-old father said.
For Franky Jean Simon, 28, a bricklayer and goat farmer, the incentive is only partly financial. “It’s not really the money that interests us. It is more the irrigation and the problems” the floods cause, he said.
In the wake of January’s earthquake, which killed between 250,000 and 300,000 people and shattered the economy, the United Nations and various NGOs set up the “Cash for Work” programs across the country.
Haitians receive between 180 and 240 gourdes a day ($4.50 to $6), depending on their abilities, to clear tons of rubble still strewn in the streets, dispose of garbage, rebuild roads or reinforce riverbanks to prevent more flooding.
“We’re trying to have shifts of 20 days each so it won’t just be the same group of people that benefits from the aid,” said Cyril Seguy, an Acted official in Leogane.
Organizing who can and cannot participate has not proven easy, though, and a number of children have tried to slip into work sites to join the program.
“Why is he not at school?” Martin Norand, an official overseeing the NGO projects, said after he spotted a youngster wielding a pickaxe at work. “The supervisor must be told again that only adults are allowed!”
Along with disbursing close to $1 million into Leogane’s economy, Acted hopes to see many kilometers of the riverbed cleaned up by the end of the program.
The UN is disbursing another $6 million to fund the cleaning of drainage canals in Port-au-Prince through 40 projects that will employ close to 25,000 people.
With close to 70 percent of Leogane in a flood-prone zone with high groundwater, local lawmaker Jimis Beneche has nothing but praise for the project.
“Normally this work should be done by the city council,” he said, but “with the weakness of the state right now,” it would be unlikely to proceed without outside help.