Education International
Education International

EI marks earthquake anniversary by committing to reconstruct Haiti

published 12 January 2011 updated 12 January 2011

On the first anniversary of the earthquake that destroyed hundreds of towns and communities across Haiti, killing 230,000 people and leaving 1.5 million homeless, EI has pledged to continue its solidarity with the country.

More than 1,300 teachers and 200 non-teaching staff lost their lives as they performed their daily tasks at work in their schools. It is still unknown precisely how many children and students died, although some estimates put the figure at tens of thousands.

Haitians marked the anniversary with Church services held around the nation, including at the ruined cathedral in Port-au-Prince. A one minute's silence was also observed at 4.53pm - the exact moment when the 7.0 magnitude quake hit. Banks, schools and government offices were closed on Wednesday for the day of national mourning.

Entire communities of homes, schools, hospitals and vital public service structures were decimated. The material losses are being accounted for, but the human tragedy of emotional and psychological damage remains too overwhelming, and has proven immeasurable.

However, the aftermath of the quake saw an unprecedented response from the international community. EI and its affiliate members also came together to support those affected by the disaster.

The Confédération Nationale des Educateurs d'Haiti(CNEH), EI’s member in Haiti, also reacted quickly despite its own infrastructure being severely damaged. Some members of CNEH ‘s leadership were killed, injured or made destitute, but those who were able to, whether from their refugee camps, or the cars in which they lived – as did CNEH’s General Secretary and Deputy General Secretary – they turned to support from EI and its members. This enabled an urgent operation to channel basic human aid to succeed in helping thousands of teachers in the worst hit areas.

After the humanitarian aid ended, CNEH began the process of reorganising the union to prepare for the reconstruction that the international community had promised. It held elections across its federations and began to organise its members. A recruitment campaign was launched and EI supported CNEH to re-establish its operational infrastructure to function as a union.

While a congress was called to establish new leadership and approve a new campaign for quality public education, the efforts were hampered by aid not being received; only five per cent of debris was removed; many schools and hospitals, sanitation facilities and roads, were left as they were in the aftermath of quake. The chronic failure to invest in public health then led to a cholera epidemic which killed 3,500 people, and political instability has also increased, following November's disputed presidential election. In light of all these challenges, the CNEH’s plans were also stalled.

Despite the setbacks, and in a context where education continues to be perceived as a low level priority, classes take place in schools without classrooms, cloakrooms or even teachers who are paid, EI and its members remain committed to supporting the people of Haiti who have spoken of their frustration at the slow pace of reconstruction.

EI General Secretary, Fred Van Leeuwen, said: “EI’s commitment for the Haitian people remains firmly on the side of its education system and its teachers.”

Van Leeuwen noted that: “International donors last March pledged $2.01bn for the country's long-term recovery but by the end of December, the amount disbursed totalled $1.28bn – or 63.6 per cent.” He urged the international community to fulfil its promises to help with the reconstruction efforts.