By Jennifer Bakody, with additional reporting by Jill Van den Brule
JACMEL, Haiti, 5 April 2010 – Almost three months after the massive 12 January earthquake devastated the country, the Haitian Ministry of Education, with the support of UNICEF and its partners, has issued a nationwide call for children to return to school.
The call marks the first step in an effort that aims to return more than 700,000 students to schools over the next two months, and even more by the start of the new academic year in September.
The Government has also announced that the current school term will be extended until August, to provide Haiti’s children with more time to catch up on the months of learning they lost due to the earthquake.
Returning to school
Ecole Sainte Therese in Jacmel, a state school with 614 primary students, was damaged during the earthquake. But classes are resuming thanks to the tarpaulins and other supplies provided by UNICEF and its partners.
Twin brothers Jean-Raymond and Jean-Rene Michel, 13, are happy to be back in classes at Ecole Sainte Therese, saying that they were bored and restless at home, wondering when they’d be able to return to school.
Following the earthquake, they spent their days outside in the streets, and their nights in a tent with their family of eight. Jean-Raymond says that being inside a building still makes him anxious.
“We came [to the school] and we saw the tent, and I liked it immediately,” he says. “Our teachers have arranged it nicely for us. They’ve even arranged our benches the way they were before, inside in our classrooms.”
Jean-Rene says the whole family is happy about the resumption of school, as their father, mother and grandmother were eager to see the boys’ minds engaged.
“Our parents had broken hearts for us,” says Jean-Raymond.
A passion for learning
The 12 January earthquake killed an estimated 38,000 students and more than 1,300 teachers and other education personnel, and left more than 4,000 schools and the Ministry of Education’s headquarters destroyed. All available data on education was lost. An estimated three million students are believed to have suffered an interruption to or complete cessation of their education.
UNICEF and its partners have worked with the Haitian Government to provide 3,000 school tents to date, along with kits of educational materials and recreational items, and school furniture to assist children whose schools were destroyed, or who have moved to temporary camps after losing their homes.
Orientation sessions have been provided to teachers and volunteers, and an interim curriculum has been introduced that covers basic life skills, psychosocial support and disaster preparedness.
“The demand for education is very high in Haiti. There is a clear thirst for learning amongst children and families,” said UNICEF Haiti Acting Representative Françoise Gruloos.. “Families value education far above any other service and we want to embrace this passion for learning.”
UNICEF has also provided seven prefabricated offices for the Ministry of Education and is working with the Ministry and its partners on a model for earthquake-proof schools using innovative building technologies − including environmentally friendly compressed earth blocks.
Despite living a day-to-day existence, Jean-Raymond and Jean-Rene still see a future full of possibility for themselves.
“I want to be a MINUSTAH [UN peacekeeping] soldier, so I can keep my parents safe,” says Jean-Rene.
“I want to be a priest… to help all the people who are sick, and make them feel better,” adds Jean-Raymond
UNICEF believes that education provides a lifeline for such hopes in times of crisis.
“Returning to education is the key to restoring hope, but it is a long-term process that requires total commitment from all partners,” said UNICEF Acting Chief of Education Mohamed Fall. “Education is the foundation upon which Haiti can rise again − a foundation that can stand in the face of an earthquake and also create the basis for a safe, secure future for Haiti’s children.”