By Diana Valcárcel
The following field diary was submitted by UNICEF Communication Specialist Diana Valcárcel, who is on the ground in Haiti.
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, 15 March 2010 – In and around Haiti’s devastated capital city, UNICEF-supported ‘tent schools’ are opening for children affected by the 12 January earthquake.
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I recently visited one of these temporary schools. It was housed in a former sports centre – now acting as a displaced persons camp – in the Carrefour district, south-west of Port-au-Prince. The tent school was one of the most cheerful places I’ve been since arriving in Haiti.
A longstanding problem
UNICEF’s experience shows that it is necessary to get children back to school as soon as possible after emergencies to restore a sense of normalcy in their daily lives.
Even before the earthquake struck on 12 January, poverty and a lack of infrastructure contributed to a low school-enrolment rate across Haiti. The quake only exacerbated this longstanding problem.
The Ministry of Education estimates that 80 per cent of schools west of Port-au-Prince were destroyed or severely damaged in the earthquake, and 35 to 40 per cent were destroyed in the south-east. This means that as many as 5,000 schools were destroyed and up to 2.9 million children here are being deprived of the right to education.
In the wake of the earthquake, a logistical ‘Education Cluster’ of organizations was created – co-led by UNICEF and Save the Children – to support the government in getting children back into schools.
‘Based on hope’
The UNICEF tent school that we visited in Carrefour opened on 22 February. It consisted of two large tents – one for children aged 7 to 12, and one for 12- to 17-year-old students.
Along with children and adolescents living in the displaced persons’ camp, the new school’s doors are also open to children from the surrounding neighborhood – some of whom have not been to school before.
Teachers from the Haitian Red Cross lead the classes. Chantal Duphrézin, one of the teachers leading the younger age group, mentioned that new desks and benches – provided by UNICEF – had just arrived.
“Haiti is going to change for better, we are sure,” said Ms. Duphrézin. “We have to be based on hope. And the change will take place by our efforts… There will come a day when there will be no rubble in the street. That’s what we want.”
Learning through play
Ms. Duphrézin told us that her team of teachers is developing a combined study plan that mixes fun with traditional educational methods, so that the students will learn while they play. This psycho-social technique helps to ease the transition back to school for children following an emergency.
I witnessed this technique firsthand in the tent schools, where I saw groups of students, led by their teachers, singing educational songs – and all clearly having fun while learning.
Later, I approached a girl named Matsaika, 12, who was painting quietly at her desk. Matsaika now lives in the Carrefour settlement for the displaced. “When I grow up I would like to be a nurse to heal others,” she told me, adding: “I am very happy at this school.”