At a glance: Haiti

In Haiti, 15 new schools bring better learning to remote areas

A new school in Haiti gives a boy a second chance.  Download this video

 

By Michelle Marrion

Construction of new school buildings in rural Haiti has had a positive impact on communities, bringing increased attendence, greater interest and, for one boy, a seat where he can see better. 

BOUCAN, Haiti, 21 January 2015 – “Each one of these schools is an orchestra, and everyone has an important role to play. If we all play our instruments together and play them well, we can create a beautiful symphony,” says Ecclésiaste Télémaque, Deputy Director of the Haitian Ministry of National Education and Professional Training (MENFP).

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Video
The new Boucan national school, in Haiti's Southern Department, is one of 15 schools UNICEF has helped construct in rural areas, in partnership with the Haitian government.

In Haiti’s most rural communes, nearly one child in three does not attend school. Lack of access and the poor quality of education available have been major obstacles to children’s learning.

In partnership with the MENFP and local organizations, UNICEF has supported the construction of 15 schools in the Northern and Southern departments, in an effort to bring quality education for all children.

Obstacles

In the Southern Department, children walk as long as 90 minutes each way to school. Aside from the distance, the lack of secure school facilities has deterred many from attending. At the Boucan national school, the tattered top of a broken school bench is shaded by an avocado tree, a remanant of the school’s previous function as a farm.

Eleven-year-old Johny remembers it well. “There weren’t enough benches,” he says. “The books got wet and ripped when it rained. The church was the only place we could seek shelter. But we all couldn’t fit in the church, so many of us just went home.”

“We had nothing at all, not even latrines,” adds Jean Ophilio Lainé, Director of the Boucan school. “To see the children relieving themselves on the ground was serious.”

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Video
Johny, 11, remembers classes before the new school building was built. “There weren’t enough benches,” he says. “The books got wet and ripped when it rained."

The health implications led him to end the school year early in the past, when cholera and fear of contamination were rampant. All the new school buildings now have latrines.

Community effort

Construction of the school in Boucan was a community effort. “We all did what we could,” says Saintella Edouard, Johny’s grandmother. “The community members helped improve the road so trucks could come in with the building materials. When the trucks couldn’t make it up the mountain due to heavy rains, we brought the materials on foot or on donkey.  We’ve gone from learning under trees and straw shelters to tents, and now we have these beautiful buildings.”

Mr. Télémaque of the MENFP notes the important role of parents and community in children’s education. “I’m a country boy myself. My mother had only a second-grade education, but she participated fully in my education. She made sure I studied and did my schoolwork.”

Learning better

Now that the Boucan school has its own building, the learning capacity of the students is the main focus. Director Lainé and Johny’s teacher have been able to assess that the problem with Johny’s eyesight didn’t end at the esotropia that he’s had since birth, and which causes his eyes to cross. He is also severely nearsighted.

“When I sat far away, the blackboard looked blurry,” Johny says. “Since they moved my seat up front, I’m able to see what’s written on the board more clearly, and I’m learning better.”

“The little guy’s serious about his schoolwork,” Mrs. Edouard boasts. “I like that. He’s brilliant and will be able to take care of himself.”

Overwhelming response

Mr. Lainé feels families in the area now place more value on education. Enrolment has increased from 80 children the first year it started functioning in 2011 to a 388 children today. The makeshift structures of the school before accommodated a fraction of the children in need. “One had to travel at least 17 kilometres to attend school at one of the neighbouring larger towns, or some parents would send their children to live with family or friends in Port-au-Prince for schooling. Those who weren’t able to do that just wouldn’t send them at all,” he says.

The response has been so overwhelming that the canteen area in the Boucan school doubles as a preschool, so local children can receive early education. 

Mr. Lainé is proud of what has been accomplished. “We created a community management committee to supervise both the school structure and the goods inside,” he says. “The goal of the entire community is for the school to serve as patrimony – that is, to be around for our children’s children, as long as there are people living in this community.”


 

 

UNICEF Photography: Makeshift classrooms

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