As featured on Al-Jazeera English
The earthquake that hit Haiti on 12 February closed schools in Port-au-Prince for nearly three months. On 5 April the Ministry of Education officially reopened the schools, but due to extensive damage throughout the capital, less than half the schools were able to open their doors to students.
Prior to the earthquake, half a million children between the ages of 6 and 12 were not in school. The 7.0 earthquake damaged every school in the West Province region and 80% were severely damaged or destroyed. School furniture, books and equipment were lost and many affected families could no longer afford school fees or replacement uniforms.
The area affected by the earthquake was home to almost 50% of the country’s pupils and students. When the earthquake struck at 4.53pm, the afternoon school session was in full swing. According to UNICEF, 38,000 schoolchildren and 1,347 teachers were killed.
Seeking an education
Senetus Betiana lives in Parc Sainte Claire camp. Set up by Islamic Relief eleven days after the earthquake, it was the first organised camp for displaced people to be established in Port-au-Prince.
The 13-year-old spends her free time reading French books. “I’m reading so that I can become knowledgeable,” Senetus said. “I want to be a great doctor so I can help people who are sick.”
Senetus is reading a poem about prejudice, Le Loup et L’agneau, The Wolf and the Lamb. “The wolf kills the lamb for no reason, but I think the story is beautiful,” she explained.
Senetus used to go to school at College Mixte Jaqueson Schneider but it was damaged in the earthquake.
Isadoremom, 10, and her brother Gregory, 14, who are also living in Parc Sainte Claire, were at school when the earthquake happened. “I thought I was going to die,” said Isadoremom. “I didn’t understand what was happening so I just stayed in my seat.”
Gregory added, “I tried to run out of the school but I fell over in front of the door. We haven’t been back to school since the earthquake and we need you to build us schools so that Haitian children can study.”
For now, a simple makeshift school is held in a large tent in Parc Sainte Claire and it runs activities for children like Senetus, Gregory and Isadoremom.
Residents of the camp have formed a committee to help with its organisation. Watson Navarin, a representative of the committee explained, “It’s not really a school; it is just to keep the children busy. We want a real school.” Watson described how this has had a profound impact on many children, and left them very troubled. He hopes that regular schooling will help Haitian children to “refresh their minds.”
Earlier this year, the Minister of Education encouraged aid agencies to run education programmes in the worst-affected areas. Islamic Relief is finalising plans to construct eight schools large enough to accommodate at least 6,800 students whose schools were forced to shut as a result of the earthquake. This project also aims to generate jobs for around 60 teachers.
Once completed, the children of Parc Sainte Claire will be able to return to school. In addition to running classes and recreational activities, the schools will provide students with learning materials and lunch and will be managed by the local community.
Non-formal education can be a useful channel for essential messages in the aftermath of a natural disaster. If children attend disaster risk reduction workshops, they are not only better-equipped to deal with future risks, but can transmit these skills and lessons to their families and the wider community.