Slow return to school for quake-hit Haiti's students
Port-Au-Prince (AFP) Oct 6, 2010
In Haiti's devastated capital, children are returning to school, filing into tents and hangars in dribs and drabs, nine months after the earthquake that leveled much of the city.
In a large courtyard, where two schools destroyed in the January quake have merged, hangars have been set up to accommodate children who face open-air classes and a difficult cohabitation.
"We're holding two classes in the same space. There are not enough place for the children, but we have to do it," one resigned teacher said.
January's 7.0-magnitude killed at least 250,000 people, including many of Haiti's teachers and students. It left at least a million people homeless, destroying many of Port-au-Prince's schools and homes.
At the Celie Lilavois School and the National School of Brazil in Port-au-Prince, few students showed up for the first day of classes on Monday, in the courtyard that now serves both institutions.
Flonise, 14, was there, but she was the only one in her family to come.
"My brother and younger sister have to wait until December, when my mother will be able to pay the school fees," she said.
"I was lucky. I was given the school uniform," added Flonise, who has yet to finish primary school, despite her age.
"The economic crisis and the living conditions of families is inhibiting the return of students," said Miloudy Vincent, an official with Haiti's education ministry.
In the camps set up to accommodate those made homeless by the earthquake, children are roam everywhere, but disorganization and poverty means they can't return to school until ways to outfit them and pay their fees are found.
The United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, has distributed books and uniforms to thousands of school-age children in camps for the displaced, but what they have been able hand out so far falls short of the massive need at the camps.
The organization has promised to support 2,000 schools and more than 700,000 children and teachers, according to UNICEF representative Nathalie Hamoudi.
Luckerson Pierre, eight, looked a little bit lost on his first day of school, but said he already knew he wants to become a teacher.
"I lost my sister Emmanuela in the quake. I was able to come to school today thanks to people who donated me the uniform and books," he said.
Elsewhere in Port-au-Prince, classrooms have been set up in damaged tents that have no chance of withstanding the downpours that Haiti's current rainy season has brought.
The seasonal bad weather has already whipped makeshift shelters with high winds, flooding and landslides, bringing more death and destruction to the country.
"After the earthquake, the most important this for the children is school," Education Minister Joel-Desrosiers Jean-Pierre said as he attended the first day of classes at the joint school site.
Amid protests by teachers and students angry at limited resources, the ministry has relocated refugees who had taken shelter in schools to make room for more students.
"The objective of the state is to bring all of Haiti's children to school," Jean-Pierre said during his school visit.
"This time, universal education will become a reality in a country where more than 300,000 children are outside of the system," he pledged.
"Teachers are ready for the return to school, but parents must also ensure the schooling of their children," said Yolaine, a teacher.
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