Cleanup coalition in Haiti's largest slum

Haiti's Cité Soleil is the most notorious slum in the Western Hemisphere, but local residents are picking up shovels and brooms to transform their neighborhood.

Gary G. Yerkey
A clean-street mural in Cité Soleil by local artist Romeo.

• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

 The United Nations has called the sprawling and impoverished part of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, known as Cité Soleil the most dangerous place on earth. Armed gangs, kidnappings, killings, and garbage-strewn streets have turned this shantytown into the Western Hemisphere’s most notorious slum. But now the situation is changing – thanks in part to a group of determined residents who have had enough.

Each Saturday they meet to discuss issues ranging from health care to education and sanitation, from crime to the overall well-being of the community. Then they pick up shovels and brooms and clean up the neighborhood.

“We’re proud that this has become the cleanest and safest neighborhood in all of Cité Soleil,” says Luckson Saint-vil, secretary-general of the neighborhood organizing committee La Difference that spans about four square blocks. Gang members feel unwelcome and weapons have been banned, he says.

He says that the residents have also been talking up their success in other parts of Cité Soleil. “Our message is simple: It is not your neighborhood that makes you; it is you that makes your neighborhood.”

Many of the 300,000 or so residents of Cité Soleil still do not have basic services like plumbing and electricity. But the message of self-help being spread by the members of La Difference, according to Mr. Saint-vil, has begun to take hold. “Other neighborhoods,” he says, “are beginning to pay attention and envy what we have done.”

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