Getting children back to school, one of UNICEF’s top priorities in Haiti
Madiana is recovering her right to education, but many more children in Haiti are still waiting. At Ecole Nationale Isidore Boisrond, girls in blue uniforms are once again enjoying their opportunity to learn, play, chat and giggle. “I feel really happy to be at school and not to hear any gunfire around,” says Madiana, 15.
“Last year, I missed my exams and I had to stay in the same grade for another year,” she continues with a grim expression. “Nobody would dare walk to school. It was very dangerous. In a family that I know, gunmen broke into the house. They killed the father, they killed the mother, they killed three children and set the house on fire. I saw that.”
In the last two years, the kind of violence Madiana describes has risen significantly in Bel Air, one of the most impoverished areas of Haiti’s capital. Kidnappings and killings have created panic among the local population. Children have been abducted on their way to school. Houses and schools have been burned down. Women have seen their street business taken away by mobs, gunmen and general social unrest. Many families have moved to other areas or to the countryside to get away from armed gangs.
Students and teachers from Bel Air vividly remember what they have endured. “In April 2005, students were busy in classes when shooting broke out in this neighborhood, getting closer and closer to this school, and all of a sudden bullets started pouring inside the compound,” recalls Bernadette Jean Joseph, the Director of École Nationale Isidore Boisrond. As she speaks, she points to a bullet hole in one of the school’s walls just above a doorway.
“We were having a grammar class when the shootings started. We all laid down under the benches. I was shaking; I was too scarred to cry. Tears were running down my friend’s cheeks, making a puddle on the ground next to my face,” says Carmen, 11.
“I felt so helpless that day because I had not only my own life at stake but also that of 200 children,” adds Mrs. Jean Joseph.
Violence and insecurity are still rife in Bel Air, Cité Soleil, Martissant and other poor rundown suburbs of Port-au-Prince, and not all children have gone back to school. “We used to have more than 500 children attending our school before the crisis in 2003. Now, the number of registered children is just above half of that, and many of those registered don’t stay to complete the schoolyear because their parents cannot afford to pay fees for the entire year,” says Sœur Marie-Christine Primary School Principal, Sister Erna.
Getting children back to school is one of UNICEF’s top priorities in Haiti. All 80 schools in Bel Air and all 152 in Cité Soleil have received basic supplies as have all children (around 50,000) in those schools. The much-needed materials will help the schools provide children and families with a sense of normalcy. But hundreds of thousands more children are waiting to go back to school in different areas of Haiti where extreme poverty, political crisis and insecurity have for years deprived children of their right to education, to health, to protection and to other basic social services. For the 2006-2007 schoolyear, UNICEF will help another 40,000 children get back to school.
© UNICEF Haiti/2006