Getting a decent schooling in Haiti has never been easy but the challenges became painfully clear after the 2010 earthquake.
According to government statistics, 1,347 teachers and 38,500 students were killed in the disaster. Eighty per cent of schools were damaged and destroyed in the capital Port au Prince and a further 60% in the south and west of the country. Buildings left standing often doubled as shelters for survivors, disrupting classes as children began returning to school.
Underscoring the tragedy, lack of investment in the years prior to the earthquake meant Haiti's education system was severely ill-equipped to recover from the shock.
ActionAid Haiti and our partner organisations made education a priority in our earthquake response. Building better schools and providing a good learning environment for children in communities we work with, offers an example of what can be achieved with the right investment.
Three years on, we have built and reinforced schools serving children in Thiotte, Mariani, St Jude, Gressier and Vallue. School structures are designed to protect students and staff - using technology that can withstand both earthquakes and the high winds and heavy rains that frequently visit Haiti. And lessons include, what to do in the event of risks and disasters (part of an initiative called “Leçon Communautaire”).
We have also trained teachers to give special support to children catching up on missed schooling - whether due to natural disaster or poverty.
Thirteen year old Marlène Monélis and her brother Moise aged 5 are feeling the difference. They are among the first 130 students enrolled in a new school in Mariani built by ActionAid and COZPAM.
Teachers were very often absent in my last school. It is different now. I learn better in my new school which is nice with modern and clean toilets,
Marlène's mother describes her as a very talented girl who loves going to school. A decent education will help Marlène pursue her dream of becoming a nurse.
Waglaine Senat, aged 13, beams as she describes the new ActionAid school in St Jude:
The classrooms are bigger and there is a lot of light. The school yard is secure and there is room for us to play. Every time I look at the school I feel reassured that I will be able to finish my primary school years with success.
Perhaps the most important part of ActionAid's education work is advocating for investment and raising awareness among poor communities and policy makers that after a disaster, education can’t wait. Like water, food and shelter, ensuring children's right to education is a priority (as promised in the 1987 Haitian Constitution).
Quality education is critical for Haiti's development but we still face a huge shortfall in teachers and school materials. While education is stated priority for the current government, much more investment is needed to ensure that all children have access to a decent education. (The Ministry of Education estimates US$14 million is needed to reinvigorate the education system).
As part of ActionAid Haiti staff and someone who has been working for children's rights for over 5 years, I am happy to have contributed to improving education for more than one thousand children in vulnerable communities since the earthquake.