By Thomas Nybo
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, 7 October 2011 – The Haitian government has taken a big step toward realizing its goal of providing a free education to all the country’s children. On Monday, President Michel Martelly announced that 772,000 children will receive free schooling this year, including 142,000 children who have never attended school before. His announcement came at Ecole Nationale de Tabarre on the first day of the new school year.
For its part, UNICEF has begun distributing school kits to 750,000 children and 15,000 teachers throughout the country. UNICEF’s contribution of nearly $10 million will reach some 2,500 schools, in the form of school kit distribution and other education programs.
“Education is fundamental for the development of children, families, communities, and for the future of Haiti’s reconstruction,” said UNICEF’s Representative in Haiti, Françoise Gruloos-Ackermans.
‘Giving hope to youth’
To advance education in Haiti, UNICEF is working with a variety of governmental and non-governmental partners to build an education system that is free and universal.
At Monday’s event, President Martelly and Ms. Gruloos-Ackermans presented students with new UNICEF backpacks, as well as other school supplies, such as pencils and notebooks.
“The country has nothing to offer us,” said one student, a boy named Jonas. “There is no opportunity for young people. So, it’s easy to become mad. But today, President Martelly is giving hope to youth.”
Addressing food insecurity
Also on hand for the event was Ms. Myrta Kaulard, World Food Programme’s Representative in Haiti. WFP, which works closely with UNICEF to ensure the best conditions for children in school, is providing 1.1 million students free daily meals.
“For poor households, nowadays, the cost of food is very, very high,” Ms. Kaulard said. “So ensuring the children eat a fool nutritionally balanced meal when they come to school is making sure that they eat well, but is also alleviating household budgets.”
She added that a year and a half after the earthquake, a national survey revealed that nearly half the Haitian population is struggling with food insecurity.
A common goal
This year marks the first full year of school for Haitian children since the earthquake. UNICEF, WFP and the Haitian government are all working to make sure the promise of a free education is realized by as many of the country’s children as possible.