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Haiti, how is it going?

21/02/2012: Haiti

Recently (12 January) we remembered the tragic anniversary of the earthquake which, two years ago, nearly destroyed the city of Port au Prince and caused thousands of deaths. Many donations subsequently arrived at FMSI to help the people of Haiti subject to such great suffering. In dialogue with the Marist Brothers of Haiti and with the other centres for the collection of funds: Mexico Occidental (solidarity office), Canada (Marist Mission Foundation) and Spain (SED), it was decided to concentrate the donations into a reconstruction fund, directed towards schools and training programmes for children and young people. Today there are three projects in course and one getting underway. We wish to share their progress with you.

The first project has been carried out at Merceron (photo gallery), in the neighbourhood of Port au Prince, in collaboration with the Congregation of the Sisters of Jesus- Mary and the NGO SED.  Its objective is the development of education in the area through the construction of a primary school and the training of teachers.

Merceron is a village in the rural zone of Thomazeau. Its distance from the connecting road to Port au Prince and the poor condition of the local network keep the population in a situation of isolation and poverty. Illiteracy and dropout from school are very high. Before the project, children from Merceron had to go more than 10 km to reach the nearest school.

Since the new school has been built, the number of students in a few months has reached 240. The rate of schooling in the zone has increate by 100%! The presence of a plant of drinkable water, supplied by a system for collecting and purifying rainwater, guarantees not only access to water, but also allows the implementation of programmes of hygiene and health education. Thanks to this, the new outbreak of cholera has been checked.

The local population is proud to have an educational centre in their territory which is daily becoming a centre of reference for other activities. The same local community made land available for the school and collaborated during the construction work. The students’ parents have formed a cooperative to sell rice, and part of the income is destined for school expenses and the teachers’ salaries.

Once a week training courses for teachers are conducted in which people from other zones also take part. The project is having positive results for other schools in trained staff and improved teaching methods. The challenge, in fact, is not only to guarantee new school structures but to improve the quality of teaching.

This is the purpose of the second project cofinanced with the Marist Province of Mexico Occidental, for structural extensions to the secondary school of the Nativity, at Dame Marie (photo gallery). The school has 368 students, and has been for years a centre of reference for the training of the young people, but its facilities are proving ever more inadequate to accommodate the growing number of pupils and to offer updated formation. Thanks to the project, which is in its final phase of construction, the school can now make use of new classrooms, a science and computer laboratory, and infrastructure for sporting activities which are open to all the youth of the zone. “We already have quality of education, but we lacked a building more worthy of our reputation”, said the director of the College “Notre-Dame de la Nativité”, in Dame-Marie. “And this year, with the help of FMSI, we can improve the educational experience of our students with the science laboratory, library, and other service areas being constructed. Although what gives the students most enthusiasm are the new sports facilities… Truly we are making a good effort to give our pupils of Haiti a good education.”

The third project  in course is the “afternoon school” (photo gallery) for the literacy and reinsertion in school of vulnerable children. With the Haiti Fund, it has been possible to extend this programme started by the Canadian  Brother Laurent Beauregard at the College Alexandre-Dumas in Latibolière. Many of the children of the “afternoon school” perform “domestic work” for the families to whom they are “entrusted” because they are orphans or come from very poor families. For these children, occupied all day with exhausting work in the house and the fields, in some cases close to slavery, going to school is almost a dream. Some of them could not otherwise be enrolled in school because they have no birth certificate.

The Marist brothers visit the families hosting these children and apply pressure on them to recognize their right to schooling. At the same time, they make the local community aware and involve them in pointing out other children who need to take part in the programme. The school offers courses of primary education (first and second year) so that the children can acquire the knowledge and ability to be able to join in the normal school courses. It is satisfying to be able to say that they enjoy the best results, in some cases better than other pupils of the courses they join in.

Schooling takes place in the afternoon for three hours. A meal is included to combat malnutrition and foster learning and recreational play. The children can follow hygienic norms contributing to prevent a new outbreak of cholera. In addition, those who have no documents are enrolled in the register.

All the educational activity is constantly linked to the work of social assistance and promotion for the purpose of giving a greater effectiveness for the children living conditions. Many of their learning difficulties are due to their feeling themselves of little value, “not capable like the others”. The programme aims at these children passing from feeling “abandoned” to feeling attended to in the best of ways. For this reason, no course has more than 40 students.

The project getting underway has as objective the creation of a youth centre in the city of Jeremie, the major centre of the Department of Grand’Anse, to which many refugees from the earthquake fled to request hospitality from relatives and friends, thus complicating the already difficult economic situation.

The youth are the most sensitive to the climate of uncertainty still reigning in the country. They would like to be the leading actors for a new future but do not know how to go about it.

Also, in Jeremie there are not many spaces for meeting, for participating in and promoting initiatives. Many of them have not received any training that will allow them to find work. For this reason, it has seemed very important to contribute towards creating a place for them. A open centre, with spaces for all types of activities, but also rooms to provide education for children who have left school, adult literacy courses, and teacher training.We will come back soon to tell you how this is going.

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