Haiti’s struggling education system suffered another severe blow as tropical storms and hurricanes hit the island four times in August and September, bringing floods that killed more than 800 people and inflicting almost $1 billion in damage.
In Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, nearly 45 per cent of the country’s population is under the age of 18. Only 51 per cent of Haitian girls and 48 per cent of boys of primary school age attend school, according to UNICEF. EI regional coordinator Virginia Albert-Poyotte travelled to Haiti in October to meet with teachers and leaders of the Confédération Nationale des Educateurs d’Haïti (CNEH), and to distribute solidarity funds from EI and Canadian and Caribbean affiliates. Albert-Poyotte and other unionists visited the hard-hit city of Gonaïves, where flood waters three metres deep swept away homes and schools. They also tried to visit Nippes, where 40 schools were damaged, leaving more than 8,000 pupils without access to education, but access roads were closed due to flooding. In Gonaïves, no classes were taking place because the remaining schools were still occupied by townspeople whose homes had been destroyed. “The teachers were very thankful for the support given to them,” said Albert-Poyotte. Besides homes and schools, the hurricanes also destroyed crops and killed significant numbers of livestock, making already-hungry people all the more vulnerable. Médecins Sans Frontières reported an increase in the number of malnourished children admitted to its relief hospital in Gonaïves. In a country faced with such immense challenges, education represents a key source of hope for the future, says UNICEF’s representative in Haiti, Annamaria Laurini. “Too many Haitian families are being faced, this year, with a decision no family should ever have to make: to feed their children, or to send them to school.”