Haiti’s recovery begins with its children
KUALA LUMPUR, 11 April 2010 – Despite the challenges that haunt their young lives, the children of Haiti are showing relentless resilience, bravery and hope to rebuild their country devastated by the 7.3 magnitude earthquake three months ago.
Rachel Lunique, 17, was trapped in the rubble for two days after rushing into a building to save a mother and child. Now she spends most of her days thinking about life before the earthquake, and what it will take for Haiti to return to a semblance of normality.
"It's very important for young people to participate in Haiti's rebuilding because the way the country is right now, it is not good," said Rachel who is desperate to return to school. "I wish everybody could go back to school because without school, you can't do anything."
A children’s emergency
Nearly 1.5 million children have been directly affected by the 12 January disaster and many remain at risk and require assistance and protection. It is estimated that the earthquake claimed the lives of 222,517 people and injured 310,928 more.
Children have been robbed of their parents, siblings and friends, while tens of thousands are homeless and living in tents in the hundreds of settlements for the displaced that have sprung up in and around the capital city of Port-au-Prince. With over 1,300 schools and learning institutions having collapsed or are unusable, learning opportunities too seem to be in jeopardy.
“The earthquake in Haiti has compounded an already dire situation – and this makes the challenge of building back even harder,” said UNICEF Representative to Malaysia, Mr. Hans Olsen. “Even before the earthquake, about 50 percent of all Haitian children did not attend primary school and only 18 per cent of boys and 21 per cent of girls attended secondary school.”
Despite these obstacles, UNICEF and its partners are determined to bring about positive, long lasting change for Haiti’s children. UNICEF has been active on the ground every day of the past three months focusing on the recovery efforts and helping children regain a sense of normalcy in the quake’s aftermath.
The UN children’s agency is focusing on three key priorities: (1) ensuring children are in school; (2) preventing and addressing the threat of under-nutrition in children; and (3) protecting the most vulnerable children from violence, exploitation, abuse and neglect.
According to Mr. Olsen, UNICEF’s work in Haiti is made possible by the support and funding from governments, individuals and companies across the world. In Malaysia, UNICEF has received almost RM 1.3 million from donors.
“The extraordinary commitment for Haiti must be used to build a Haiti that is a better place for all young Haitians,” Mr. Olsen added. “Our approach must go beyond ‘back to school’ – it must aim to have ‘all in school’.”
The Haitian Ministry of Education, with the support of UNICEF and its partners, aims to bring 700,000 students to school over the next two months, with many more by the new school year in September.
A Haiti fit for children
UNICEF co-leads the Education Cluster in Haiti together with Save the Children, in support of the Ministry of Education, with some 40 organisations as Cluster members. To-date, UNICEF’s emergency operation has included distribution of 900 school tents for 90,000 school-aged children as well as education supplies such as “schools-in-a-box” kits, essential learning packages and recreational kits to children in the affected areas.
These efforts are critical because education provides children with a sense of safety and normalcy in times of chaos and crisis. For 10-year old Taïma Celestin's, going back to school is chance to heal and forget: "The classes help me forget what happened, if only for a little while," said Taima who joins several hundred other children for informal classes run by volunteer teachers inside two large white tents provided by UNICEF along with 'School-in-a-box' kits full of learning materials, and a recreation kit.
“Recovery starts with children. Only with children at the centre of the reconstruction effort, in places of learning, can we build a new Haiti … a Haiti fit for children,” Mr. Olsen explained.
UNICEF will issue a 90-day report presenting not only its progress for children and women since 12 January, but also the ongoing and emerging concerns, gaps, and areas that will require continued attention in the months ahead. The Report will be available from 13 April on the UNICEF Malaysia website at www.unicef.org/malaysia...............................................................................................
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