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At a glance: Haiti

Judith's story: In the face of grief, education brings hope in Haiti

© UNICEF/2010/Van den Brule
Judith and fellow students attend class at Ecole Nationale Republique du Bresil, one of many schools that have re-opened in Port-au-Prince with UNICEF support.

Judith, 15, lost her mother to the earthquake that devastated Haiti four months ago. Today she and her fellow students support each other through their grief at one of hundreds of schools that have re-opened with UNICEF support. Here Judith talks about her experience – and hopes for the future – in her own words, as told to UNICEF Haiti staffers Cifora Monier and Jill Van den Brule.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, 14 May 2010 – On the day of the quake, Ms. Lambert, our school director, sent us home early. I usually stayed after class to help clean the trash in the schoolyard. But that day, Ms. Lambert had heard that not far from our school a university teacher had been killed and there was fear of rioting. She insisted that we rush home and not linger on the streets.

I was home in about 35 minutes flat, my blouse sticking to my back from the scorching heat. Suddenly we were all white, covered in dust from head to toe. I couldn’t believe what was happening.

My world crumbled

It was a moment that changed everything. My mother, who had been home tending the house, was trapped beneath the rubble, her leg broken. My family worked frantically to remove the rocks, but they were too heavy to lift and we could not move quickly enough. That night we buried our mother.

© UNICEF/2010/Van den Brule
Surrounded by UNICEF school supplies, Judith, 15, laughs with her head teacher, Ms. Lambert. "She’s exceptional, always smiling, even after all she has been through," says Ms. Lambert of her student.

After wandering the streets, we eventually huddled on a street corner and fell asleep among the sounds of wailing women.
We no longer had a home and no longer had our mother. The two places where I sought refuge were gone. My entire life had crumbled before me. I cried a lot over the next few days and weeks, sometimes hearing my mother’s voice or seeing her in my dreams. 

After the earthquake, my family went to Les Cayes to spend several lonely weeks in the countryside. I missed my mother so much. But although she was no longer with me, she had given me the strength to move on. Today I keep her alive through my memories – like sitting in front of the TV and watch music shows together.  She said that one day I would also display my talents for the world to see. I want to realize her dream. 
A reason for living

Since I came back to Port-au-Prince, I live with eight members of my family in a small room. My father and brother sleep on the floor and my sister, cousins and I sleep on the two beds. When it rains, our room is like a swimming pool as the plastic bags don’t prevent the rain from flooding our room.


© UNICEF/2010/Van den Brule
Judith, 15, does her homework. She is back in class at a UNICEF-supported school in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, several months after the earthquake that devastated the city.

I now have to walk two hours to get to school each day – 6 km in total.  It is tiring, but I know that I must continue my studies. Sometimes I want to give up but a little voice tells me to stay determined, to keep going. I go to school for my mother, for my future. It's my reason for living.
I love school and have many friends there. It’s also a place where I can pursue my dreams of singing – I am part of a school choir and study music every day. We recently composed a song about the earthquake.
We must help each other

While school makes me happy, I’ve also lost many friends here. We used to be 74 in my seventh grade class, but now we are just 32. Many have left for the countryside, the U.S. and Canada. Ms. Lambert has become a mentor to me now that my mother isn’t here.  She even worries when I don’t eat before I come to school.

On Fridays, Ms. Lambert organizes assemblies where we share our stories and feelings about the earthquake. Here I talk about my mother. One of my classmates, who is now on crutches, described how her grandmother died right beside her, holding her hand. 

The assemblies help us get through these difficult times together. We’ve learned that we must help each other – there is no other way. We must fight to have what we want in life.



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