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At a glance: Haiti

Jean's story: An adolescent girl’s belief in education provides hope in Haiti

‘The State of the World’s Children 2011 – Adolescence: An Age of Opportunity,’ UNICEF’s new flagship report, focuses on the development and rights of more than a billion children aged 10 to 19 worldwide. This series of stories, essays and multimedia features seeks to accelerate and elevate adolescents’ fight against poverty, inequality and gender discrimination. Here is one of the stories.

By Thomas Nybo

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, 25 February 2011 – When we met Jean Bernite just six weeks after the January 2010 earthquake here, she was living in a tent with four family members. She was no longer attending school but was eager to return to the classroom.

VIDEO: UNICEF correspondent Thomas Nybo provides an update on the life and education of Jean Bernite, 19, who expresses her hopes and concerns for the future more than a year after the devastating earthquake in Haiti.  Watch in RealPlayer


As the one-year commemoration of the earthquake approached last month, we went looking for Jean to see what impact, if any, the recovery efforts were having on her. We found her in the same temporary camp, Sainte-Thérèse, in the Pétionville neighbourhood of Port-au-Prince.

“My situation is stabilized,” said Jean, who is now 19. “I was in high school after the earthquake but stopped my studies so I could volunteer to help earthquake survivors. After a while, my friends advised me to return to school, and I put this plan into action. I went back to school, and now I’m in my last year of high school.”

Toward a better life

As we spoke with Jean, she carried out her usual array of daily activities without missing a step. Her days are long and filled with uncertainty. Still, remarkably, she remains happy and optimistic – largely because of her belief in education as the main vehicle to building a better life.

“If there were two great things that I would love to change in my life, one is [to] go to college, and not only for me but all Haitian children who have finished high school and have no chance of going to college,” she said. “And after college, I would like to find a good job.”

© UNICEFHait/2011/Nybo
UNICEF has been following the progress of Jean, 19, since shortly after the Haiti earthquake of 2010, as she navigates life in a displacement camp and continues her education.

We asked Jean what frustrates her most about her current living situation. She said her biggest complaint is that she’s still living in a tent. And Jean is far from alone; more than a million earthquake-affected Haitians, including some 380,000 children and adolescents, are still living in crowded camps.

UNICEF support

UNICEF and its partners have helped 720,000 young people like Jean return to school. By establishing new schools, procuring tents and educational materials, humanitarian agencies are working around the clock to ensure that every Haitian child has equal access to a quality education.

Though progress has been great, the fact remains that more than half of Haiti’s children do not attend school. What’s more, the pace of school construction has been slowed by rubble clearing and enduring issues of land tenure.

“The change that I expected, I don’t see it yet,” Jean said of Haiti’s rebuilding process. “But what is good in my life is that I always wanted to graduate from high school, and now I’m in my last year, and I’m about to achieve that dream.”



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