Thursday, January 6, 2011
As I left Haiti today to travel on to India, my last remembrance was of a beautiful little girl named Beatrice (pictured below) who sang a little song in Creole for us inside her tented classroom. I thought of how because of a few hours time she was there today.
We visited her school in Carrefour that is supported by Save the Children donors and heard from the headmaster how the three story school where Beatrice had studied until the quake had totally collapsed in January 2010, pancaking one floor on top of the other into a heap. Thankfully the children had already left by the late afternoon, otherwise, he said that literally hundreds of his students, including maybe the lovely little girl I met today would have been crushed. Tragically, the school did lose 4 of its students and many families lost loved ones.
But by April, Beatrice and her classmates were back in school - in tents versus a cement building but starting back to learning all the same. Getting kids back to school quickly after an emergency is one of the most effective ways to help kids deal with the trauma of a disaster.
The three large tents now each hold three classes, separated by a fabric barrier and filled with small wooden benches and desks. They are noisy and get hot in the spring and summer and until reinforced with more tarps recently, they leaked in the heavy rains. But no one we talked to - not the headmaster, not the teachers, not the parents, and certainly not Beatrice were unhappy with their tented classes. They were just happy to be back together as a school and learning. While the headmaster waits for access to land where he can rebuild, the tents will serve as classrooms for about 160 children.
Many of the schools like this one are what are called "private" schools in Haiti. Because the school system can't provide enough classrooms and the demand for education is high enough, a private school industry has existed for many years in Haiti. Parents pay between $100 and $300 per year for school, not including books, uniforms, and supplies. This cost represents a very big sacrifice for many families.
And the headmaster told us that this past year many of the parents could not pay school fees because they lost jobs and homes and spouses. He was hanging on, trying to keep his school running, paying rent and teacher salaries. The support from Save the Children in the form of tents, furniture, teacher training and supplies was a big part of what kept his students in school.
This school is one of 270 in Haiti that Save the Children has supported. Education is a key program for the future of Haiti and we hope to invest more and raise more funds for education in 2011. It remains the most important thing we can focus on for Haiti's children and meeting Beatrice today just made me all the more convinced that school has to be a big part of what Save the Children does in Haiti this year.