Christine’s Story: Escaping Poverty through Education
By Jill Van den Brule
Port au Prince, 12 July, 2010 - Christine lives in a camp for displaced persons near the International Airport in Port au Prince. “The only thing I know is that I know nothing”, says this energetic 14 year old girl who cites Socrates as her motivation for going to school. “A person without education is a life without examination,” she paraphrases from memory and explains that “This means if we have an education, it is not enough. You have to study and study to be a big philosopher, a great intellectual.” And she has done just that even while out of school for three months following the earthquake that destroyed her home and forced her family into a camp.
“I want to understand how my heart beats”
Her tattered notebooks filled with detailled anatomy sketches are a testament to her desire to become a doctor. “I want to see with my own eyes what’s in the body and understand how my heart beats,” she says. Christine is also a little girl with a lot of heart and even more resolve. “Like the Haitian singer named Jean-Jean Roosevelt says, If we give the world to women, the world would be marvellous, because girls have hearts,” she says. “Just imagine, if I were a doctor, me -- a girl, not a boy. If a person did not have enough money to give birth to her son, if they were on the verge of dying, I would have the sensitive heart not to let her die. I would do all in my power, not for the money. But there are some people and for some of them it’s money that counts, not the life of the person that counts.”
“My mother is my role model”
In Christine’s world, women have been her role models. Jean Renee her 15 year old brother has been out of school for over 6 months. He was forced to drop out of school just before the quake. His mother could not afford to pay the school fees and had to make the difficult choice of sending just one of her three children to school. Jean Renee’s mother sends him to a family friend’s garage each day to be a mechanic’s apprentice. “If I cannot send him to school, I want him to at least learn a trade and stay out of trouble,” says 38 year old Therese. Her nine-year old sister Afenyoose longs to go to school but cannot because her school is simply too expensive. Christine goes to one of the few public schools in the country where fees are more affordable. As many as 90% of schools in are private, a major barrier to education for the children of Haiti. “I feel very very sad that I go to school and my little sister doesn’t. I try to teach her what I’ve learned every evening when I come home from school, so she can become a doctor like I want to be,” says Christine.
“I sometimes don’t want to go to school because our teachers are not there.” My mother says “Go to school, you don’t know if you will find the teachers, by some chance there may be teachers who will be in the classroom.” Teacher absenteeism is a reality in Haiti as many teachers do not have the resources to get to their jobs. “She always gives me the strength. The name of my mother is etched in my heart. Even if I were dead, the name of my mother would always be in my heart. My mother is my life.”
Her mother, Therese, sells second-hand tennis shoes in the camp that she gets from the market on consignment. She meticulously cleans them with a toothbrush as it is dusty in the camp. This is how she supports her family of four and pays Christine’s school fees. Her objective is to get out of the camp and give her children a better life given the stigma that they all face by virtue of living in a camp.
“My mother wasn’t able to study, this is why she wants us to go school so we don’t go through the same difficulties she did. She wants us to go to university and have good jobs,” says Christine.
“If we had not gone to school we would be dead”
“Our home fell, it’s crushed now,” she says pointing to where the broken Television set lies between the rubble of the collapsed roof. “If we had not gone to school that day we would be dead,” says Christine. “We no longer have a home and my mother doesn’t know what she will do with us because she doesn’t have any other place to go.”
The earthquake that shook Haiti destroyed and damaged an estimated 3,978 schools. UNICEF’s priority in education has been to re-establish these schools as quickly as possible. In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, temporary learning spaces were set up in large tents with water and sanitation facilties adapted to children’s needs. These temporary tents are currently being transformed into semi-permanent structures.
“I went to see my school after the quake. The primary school next to our school had collapsed on top of my school, crushing a part of my classroom and the head teacher’s office. Now we are learning in a tent and it’s very hot.” I want the government to rebuild our schools, because there are children who will come after us, so they can find schools where they can study, so they can help their families. We need to rebuild schools, because without the school there is no life, without education there is no life, because education elevates man to the dignity of his well-being,” says this future doctor. Education is Christine’s lifeline.
For more information
Cifora Monier, firstname.lastname@example.org, UNICEF Haiti, Tel: + 509 38812374
Tamar Hahn, email@example.com, UNICEF Latin America and the Caribbean, Tel + 507 3017485
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.