In search of an education in Haiti

Attendance was poor even before the January 12 earthquake damaged every school in the capital.

Islamic Relief feature on education in Haiti
Kaleb Juste shares his tent in Parc Sainte Claire with his wife Justelene and three children, Isadoremom, Gregory and Juste Jamaica [Islamic Relief Worldwide/Mohammed Afsar]

It has been four months since a magnitude 7.0 earthquake hit Haiti and as the focus turns from immediate short-term responses, aid organisations must now tackle the longer-term implications of the destruction it caused.

Chief amongst their priorities is providing education to the many children whose schools were destroyed and equipping a younger generation of Haitians to handle the challenges facing their country.

The earthquake that hit Haiti on January 12, left schools in Port-au-Prince, the capital, closed for nearly three months.

Every school in the West Province region was damaged, with 80 per cent severely damaged or destroyed.

On April 5, the ministry of education officially reopened the schools, but due to extensive damage, less than half were able to open their doors to students.

School furniture, books and equipment were lost and many affected families could no longer afford school fees or replacement uniforms.

The area affected by the earthquake was home to almost 50 per cent of the country’s students and when it struck at 4.53pm, the afternoon school session was in full swing.

According to Unicef, 38,000 schoolchildren and 1,347 teachers were killed.

But even before the earthquake, half a million children between the ages of six and 12 did not attend school.

Seeking knowledge

Senetus Betiana lives in Parc Sainte Claire camp.

Set up by Islamic Relief 11 days after the earthquake, Parc Sainte Claire was the first organised camp for displaced people to be established in Port-au-Prince.

The 13-year-old spends her free time reading French books.

“I’m reading so that I can become knowledgeable,” she says.

“I want to be a great doctor so I can help people who are sick.”

Senetus is reading a poem about prejudice, Le Loup et L’agneau or The Wolf and the Lamb.

“The wolf kills the lamb for no reason, but I think the story is beautiful,” she explains.

Senetus used to go to school at College Mixte Jaqueson Schneider but it was damaged in the earthquake.

‘Refreshing young minds’

Isadoremom was at school when the quake hit [Islamic Relief Worldwide/Mohammed Afsar]

Isadoremom, 10, and her brother Gregory, 14, who are also living in Parc Sainte Claire, were at school when the earthquake struck.

“I thought I was going to die,” Isadoremom explains. “I didn’t understand what was happening so I just stayed in my seat.”

“I tried to run out of the school but I fell over in front of the door,” Gregory says.

“We haven’t been back to school since the earthquake and we need you to build us schools so that Haitian children can study.”

For now, there is a simple makeshift school in a large tent at the camp. It runs activities for the camp’s children and residents have formed a committee to help with its organisation.

“It’s not really a school; it is just to keep the children busy,” explains Watson Navarin, a representative of the committee.

“We want a real school. For about 10 years, all these children have seen is dead bodies.”

Watson describes the profound impact this has had on many of the children. He says he hopes that regular schooling will help Haitian children to “refresh their minds”.

Rebuilding futures

In the aftermath of any large-scale disaster, the immediate concern of all humanitarian organisations is to provide food, water, medical care and shelter.

But once that ‘life-support system’ has been established for the survivors, education is high on the list of humanitarian priorities.

In Haiti, where according to government estimates, almost 40 per cent of adults are unable to read and write, this is particularly important.

The devastation wrought by the earthquake has drawn much-needed attention to the Haitian education system and provides a crucial opportunity for international organisations to assist in improving educational facilities and access to schooling across the country.

It is vital to equip survivors with the tools to rebuild their country and reclaim their way of life.

If the young are to both help rebuild their country and to ensure that it is capable of dealing with any future threats, aid organisations must work with local authorities to facilitate the construction and maintenance of schools.

Islamic Relief is now finalising plans to construct eight schools large enough to accommodate at least 6,800 students whose schools were forced to shut as a result of the earthquake.

The project also aims to generate jobs for around 60 teachers.

In addition to running classes and recreational activities, the schools, which will be managed by the local community, will provide students with learning materials and lunch.

Once completed, the children of Parc Sainte Claire will be able to return to school.

Ruqaya Izzidien is a media coordinator for Islamic Relief Worldwide.

Click here for more on Islamic Relief’s work in Haiti.

Source: Al Jazeera