Children in Haiti are still reeling from the lingering impact of the 12 January 2010 earthquake. Here is one in a series of stories on the long road from relief to recovery, a year later.
By Thomas Nybo
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, 11 January 2011 – Last month a UNICEF communications team met up with Christine, 14, outside her family’s tent in a displacement camp near the Port-au-Prince airport. Five months earlier, the team had followed the young earthquake survivor for several days to see how she managed to achieve top marks in school while living in a cramped shelter with her mother, brother and sister.
Their home was destroyed in the January 2010 quake, along with most of their belongings, and afterwards Christine’s mother only had enough money to send one of her children to school. She chose Christine.
During the recent visit with UNICEF, Christine was working on an essay about her life. The good news, she said, was that her mother was now earning enough money selling second-hand sneakers to pay the school fees for all three children in the family.
Passionate about school
“My brother and my sister are absolutely passionate about going to school,” Christine said. “They love their school. My little sister wakes up early and washes herself every day, and gets ready for school. It makes me very happy.”
Christine’s days are busy. When she’s not studying, she’s helping out with the family chores: fetching water at the taps in the camp where they live, preparing food, washing the dishes and clothing, and sweeping out their tent.
But she added that life in the camp had grown more difficult, and she was eager to make the move back into a permanent home – although she had no idea when that might happen.
“When the weather is nice outside, it is extremely hot inside the tent,” she said. “When it rains, water seeps into the tent. There is a lot of rubbish in the camp. If somebody is sick, we don’t know where to take them. For these reasons, living in the camp makes me sad.”
Education and family
Christine pointed to education and family as the two constants in her life that keep her spirits high. When the quake destroyed her home and her school, she was devastated.
“After the earthquake, my big fear was that there would no longer be school,” she recalled. “But I kept studying, because I’ve always believed that education is the key to my life. I love school a lot. Without school, I can’t do anything. Without education, man cannot retain his dignity.”
The earthquake destroyed the Ministry of Education building and damaged nearly 5,000 schools, disrupting classes for children across the disaster zone , including Christine and her siblings. UNICEF’s efforts to rebuild and re-supply the education system has reached 720,000 children in some 2,000 schools , but there is much work left to be done. More than half of the 2.2 million primary school-age children in Haiti are not in school.
‘Always be strong’
Before the UNICEF team left Christine’s camp, she read them a portion of her essay:
“I was born on January 10th, 1996. Since my birth, I have never known my father. It’s always been my mother who has taken care of me…. At times, though, she didn’t work. There were no sneakers to sell. There was nothing to do, even to give us our daily bread. There were days when we stayed with an empty stomach for the whole day. My mother seeing us in this misery would cry a lot. At the same time, she would always say to us, ‘Always be strong, even if life dishes out the worst. Don’t be afraid.’”
Christine’s story: Escaping poverty through education in post-earthquake Haiti
Building education from the ruins
Rebuilding Haiti’s education system one year after the earthquake
Educating against cholera in Haiti