Months after the devastating earthquake that ravaged Haiti, new economic hope is beginning to emerge for the people of the impoverished country.
A U.S.-backed textile training center formally opened for business August 11 and will train about 2,000 people per year to make sheets, T-shirts and high quality clothing items. More than 80 percent of the Haitian population lives on less than $2 a day and two-thirds of the population has no formal employment.
The project was planned prior to the December earthquake, but its opening was postponed because the space was needed for an emergency shelter and health center for residents displaced by the earthquake.
“It trains all levels of skilled workers in the garment sector, the people who train them, the middle management and the executives,” said David Humphries, a spokesperson for CHF International, an international and developmental aid organization based in Maryland. “Ultimately, it’s about less than one day shipping from the biggest market in the world, so it makes it easier to meet the demands of the USA. It will be a huge source of labor and will be better for the country overall.”
The U.S. Agency for International Development funded the center through a four-year, $104.8 million job-creation initiative. Congress in May passed the Haitian Economic Lift Program Act, which allows garments and textiles manufactured in Haiti to enter the United States duty free.
Last year, Haitian exports of goods like apparel, cocoa, mango, and coffee, totaled an estimated $480 million.
Humphries said that the center will provide job skills and economic growth opportunities that will improve the lives of thousands of Haitians.. “What we’re creating is long-term jobs for highly skilled people. Hopefully it’s a model that we can use around different parts of Haiti and to other areas of the garment sector,” he said.
According to Humphries, the 64,500-square-foot facility was provided by the Haitian government and renovated by CHF International-Haiti. To take part in a six-week course, sewing machine operators must pass tests on color blindness, dexterity, numbers and basic literacy. The center has already trained 50 sewing machine operators who are currently employed and will earn more than the $5 a day minimum wage paid to entry-level workers.
Kenneth Merten, the U.S. ambassador to Haiti said in a statement that the new center will help to lead Haiti to a “more prosperous and stable path.”
“It’s a further indicator of the United States’ deep commitment to the Haitian people as they build back better,” said Merten.