On the first day of school, UNICEF provides support for earthquake-affected children in Haiti


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By Benjamin Steinlechner

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, 5 October 2010 – For thousands of temporary residents of the Primature displacement camp in the Haitian capital, yesterday’s routine began as it has every day since the earthquake struck here in January. But for others, there was one major difference: It was a school day.

Judeline, 6, has been living with her mother, brother and cousin in a tent on the muddy slope of Primature since the quake destroyed their house and her father was killed. For Judeline, yesterday marked an important new start, as she went off to school in the morning for the first time.

“Going back to school is symbolic today,” said UNICEF Representative in Haiti Françoise Gruloos-Ackermans. “This is the future of the country, and I am very happy because all the donors and partners – bilateral, multilateral – we are all together in this battle, because this is a real battle.”

Classrooms rebuilt

© UNICEF video
A girl writes in a UNICEF-supplied notebook on the first day back at school for children affected by the January 2010 earthquake in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince.

UNICEF and Haiti’s Ministry of Education marked the return to school at the re-opening of Ecole Celie Lilavois. The school buildings had been destroyed in the earthquake, and UNICEF’s construction unit worked around the clock to complete four new semi-permanent classrooms for the big day.

“The objective of the state this year is not only to bring back to school those who had already been to school. It is to bring all children to school,” said Minister of Education Joël Desrosiers Jean-Pierre. “All our children have to go to school.”

The minister made his remarks during the inauguration ceremony at the Ecole Celie Lilavois.

‘Go to School’ movement

Ms. Gruloos-Ackermans echoed his point, calling the start of this new academic year in Haiti a ‘Go to School’ movement. UNICEF, the government and their partners want to enrol “not only the children that were going to school before but also the children that never attended school before,” she explained. “This is the difference between ‘Back to School’ and ‘Go to School.’”

© UNICEF video
UNICEF Representative in Haiti Françoise Gruloos-Ackermans and Haitian Minister of Education Joël Desrosiers Jean-Pierre hand out school kits to students in Port-au-Prince.

And getting children into the classroom is about more than just education here.

“Some of the children have lost their parents,” noted Ecole Celie Lilavois headmistress Henriette Moisset. “They are traumatized, really, but in school we try to give them hope, to talk to them and to put them in an environment that helps them cope with that burden. It is really hard for these children.”

A nurturing environment

Providing a safe and nurturing educational environment is a priority in post-earthquake Haiti. At Ecole Celie Lilavois, the government is providing meals for all students and UNICEF is giving them school kits as part of its support for schoolchildren and teachers. Some 720,000 school kits will be distributed in almost 2,000 schools across Haiti by the end of year.

As for Judeline, like children everywhere, she found her first day at school a bit overwhelming at first. But she soon grew comfortable with the supportive surroundings. With continued support, the hope is that she and thousands of other Haitian children will complete their education on the road to a better future.