A woman in Haiti

Canal Provides Haiti Flood Relief and Jobs

Cap Haïtien, Haiti--For Valeria Marie Dieudon, the rainy season brought problems every year--until now.

"For the first time since I can remember, I have been able to work through the rainy season, and the rain has not destroyed everything," said the seamstress who works out of her own shop along a street of small businesses next to a canal.

"Now when I am not here," she said, "it has been because I want to rest, not because my shop is under water."

USAID is helping Dieudon keep her head--and her sewing machine--above water and providing opportunities for Haitians in other parts of the country as well.

Konbit Ak Tèt Ansanm (KATA), which means working together in Creole, helps Haitians improve their lives. KATA, which is carried out by USAID grantee CHF International, works with the Haitian local government, local officials, and non-governmental partners to create public works projects and provide jobs for people in a number of communities. It provides job training and income, but also promotes entrepreneurship, conflict resolution, and economic activity.

In Cap-Haïtien, KATA initiated a canal and flood control project. "The city's local shops are routinely inundated when flooding strikes the region. The streets in Cap-Haïtien, which is located between the Bay of Cap-Haïtien to the east and nearby mountains to the west, are generally narrow and arranged in grids, making it difficult for heavy rains to drain away.

Dieudon's shop and many of the others on her street were spared after the KATA program removed large amounts of trash and mud that normally would have impeded the flow of flash flooding from six areas in Cap-Haïtien.

A similar project is taking place in Solino, a Port-au-Prince neighborhood that was known as a trouble zone for decades. Although work began two years ago and continues, the area still bears some leftover marks, including high unemployment and few economic opportunities.

Supervisor Jean Marie Yvelande, 23, oversees team leaders on this project, who themselves supervise 15 workers.

"Life is hard here in Solino," she said. "Some days are good, others are bad. This project, though, it's one of the few things we have that we can say are good, that makes the days good."

When the Solino project is completed, 5,000 cubic meters of solid waste will have been removed from 1.5 kilometers of the canal. For Yvelande, the project has meant leaving her job as a cook and having "a chance to gain some respect from the young men here. We want training, health education, and skills--things that we can keep with us always," she said.

Jean Jacques Wilner, who works with seven men and two women repairing canals in L'Acul, put it simply: "Without work, we have trouble."

L'Acul is a neighborhood in Petit Goâve, notorious as the home of the chimeres, gangs once loyal to the former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Today, Canal Figaro is getting a facelift and the community is slowly being transformed as well.

"We need KATA, it is our chance at life," said Wilner. "L'Acul will not be the grave for us."