In the wake of tragedy and destruction, and amid the ciaos of rebuilding after natural disasters and war children are often lost in the shuffle. In the aftermath of such disasters children are left the most vulnerable and susceptible to the country’s torment.
What children need most in the face of tragedy is not just food and shelter, but structure and as much of a return to normality as possible. Schools act as a safe-haven for children and help them deal with the heavy stress that follows disaster, as many children suffer from post traumatic stress syndrome. Therefore it is essential the children return to school as quickly as possibly, and while temporary means are obviously to be sought as the country continues to dig itself out from the rubble, international efforts must seek to see that the country’s educational system is rebuilt. UNICEF’s Emergency Adviser on Early Childhood Development, Arnaud Conchon, argued;
…education “has to be” one of the first lines of response in times of crisis – especially for children who are separated from their families. It’s important to assist them in “retrieving a sense of normalcy, establishing some safe and secure spaces where they can interact with caregivers,” he said.
Schools in the country are slow to re-open as the extent of structural damage is assessed of those which have not fallen to ruins. UNICEF is working to erect tent schools to serve in the place of those which cannot open, but the return of classes remains slow.
Haiti’s has long been a country with grave concerns over child welfare and access to education, as 38% of population is under the age of 14, the impoverished country is historically know for child servitude and trafficking. Living in dire poverty most families have no electricity or running water, and worry daily on how to feed their children, often leaving education as a secondary concern. Children are often sent to work as Retavek’s (servants) in more stable homes where parents hope they will receive an education, however children are forced to work long hours in servitude. Haiti’s Restavek system still has a tight grip on the community, leaving some 300,000 children in the country enslaved as domestic workers according to the UN. It is these children who will continue to anguish and suffer the most in the shadows of the earthquake, and aid efforts must seek to see that more children do not fall between the cracks of both the educational system, but fall victim to human trafficking and slavery.
With low levels of enrollment prior to the quake, seeing that aid and development work to not just rebuild Haiti’s educational system, but improve upon it is vital to the country’s stability. According to the 2007 National Strategy for Growth and Poverty Reduction Paper, the literacy rate in Haiti is 51.9%, 60% of the young population in Haiti leaves school after their primary education, and only 2% of the youth population completes secondary education. However student enrollment levels were not the only issue of concern prior to the quake;
“We already had problems before the earthquake with teacher quality. We need to fix the system to set standards, recruit good teachers and pay them so that not just anybody can teach.”
The country’s director of primary education Rénauld Telfore told IRIN in an interview, in which he also stated that ‘primary school teachers earned on average $150 to $200 per month and secondary teachers some $500. Now with the earthquake the level of quality teachers available may have decreased from the approximate 20,000, of which 7,000 were in Port-au-Prince alone and now, “many of whom may be dead”. (IRIN)
to be continued…