Haitian children say they want education to rebuild a better nation
By Jill Van den Brule
Port-au-Prince, Haiti, 18 June 2010 - Over the buzz of children chatting excitedly in Creole, nine year-old Marie-Ange hunches over her poster paper meticulously tracing the outline of a school. “This is the school of my dreams,” she says, and the wide-eyed children with gigantic toothy grins jumping rope in the courtyard are evidence of this. Marie-Ange was out of school for nearly three months following the devastating earthquake of January 12. She resumed school on April 5 in tents serving as temporary classrooms. “I want to have my school back, but one that is safer and won’t collapse if there is another earthquake. Too many children died and children are not supposed to die.”
In the cavernous convention centre in Port-au-Prince, over 100 children from various socio-economic backgrounds across the country come together to discuss how their voices can be included in the reconstruction process in Haiti. UNICEF and its partners are working with the Haitian government to put children’s issues at the core of Haiti’s reconstruction.
The Global Movement for Children (GMC), UNICEF, World Vision, Plan International, Save the Children, SOS Children’s Villages International and Care, organised the event. The GMC’s main objective is to promote global advocacy campaigns and government accountability for children’s rights. Their common vision is a ‘Haiti fit for Children’ and supporting the government in achieving this goal.
Youth facilitator Emmanuela, a 21 year old from Jacmel, one of the cities worst affected by the earthquake, explains how they use the children’s drawing as a tool for developing proposals. Some of the children suggest projects to clean up the trash in their camps, others want to band together to improve the security where lighting isn’t adequate enough for girls to feel safe at night. Fourteen year old Josette suggests that giving children flashlights is a good way to protect them from gender-based violence. “Children’s suggestions have proven to be effective and some of these proposals are already being put into practice. UNICEF is following up by distributing more flashlights and mobile lights for the latrines in communities,” says UNICEF’s Child Protection Specialist, Virginia Perez Antolin.
Here children not only learn what a vibrant civil society is but they also get to put their vision on paper.
New schools are what children ask for most for they recognise that this is the most sustainable path to rebuilding Haiti. “The entire reconstruction of Haiti is not something that is possible in just a few months or a few years. In fact for me, the reconstruction will happen in the future, but the children need to be educated first.” says 17 year old Widmark Francois from Cap Haitien.
The link between lack of educational opportunities and delinquency is something all too familiar for many Haitian children. “We have a lot of insecurity, because after the catastrophe, we have a lot of people who are doing bad things in the streets. I would tell kids they have to continue their studies so they can be somebody,” says 15 year old Oberson Phildor from Milot.
The children are aware that the international community is following the situation in Haiti very closely. “I would like to tell children all over the world that our country, Haiti, has suffered a great deal because our country is really underdeveloped, and we don’t have all that we need. So I wish for you to understand us, and if you do, that you help us realise our dreams so our country can be an advanced country,” says 16 year old Rose Verlande from Port au Prince.
The GMC will be holding additional consultations with the children of Haiti to ensure that their needs and views are incorporated into the Post Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA), an assessment of damage, losses, and needs assessment by sector that is currently being implemented by the Government of the Republic of Haiti with support from the international community.
UNICEF is on the ground in over 155 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.