Haiti One Year On: Education as a Recovery Mechanism

PK_morley_miles_ramm_00 Carolyn Miles, Chief Operating Officer, Save the Children

Leogane, Haiti

Thursday, January 6, 2011

 

As I left Haiti today to travel on to India, my last remembrance was of a beautiful little girl named Beatrice (pictured below) who sang a little song in Creole for us inside her tented classroom. I thought of how because of a few hours time she was there today. 

Beatrice sings a song

We visited her school in Carrefour that is supported by Save the Children donors and heard from the headmaster how the three story school where Beatrice had studied until the quake had totally collapsed in January 2010, pancaking one floor on top of the other into a heap. Thankfully the children had already left by the late afternoon, otherwise, he said that literally hundreds of his students, including maybe the lovely little girl I met today would have been crushed. Tragically, the school did lose 4 of its students and many families lost loved ones.

But by April, Beatrice and her classmates were back in school – in tents versus a cement building but starting back to learning all the same. Getting kids back to school quickly after an emergency is one of the most effective ways to help kids deal with the trauma of a disaster.

The three large tents now each hold three classes, separated by a fabric barrier and filled with small wooden benches and desks. They are noisy and get hot in the spring and summer and until reinforced with more tarps recently, they leaked in the heavy rains. But no one we talked to – not the headmaster, not the teachers, not the parents, and certainly not Beatrice were unhappy with their tented classes. They were just happy to be back together as a school and learning. While the headmaster waits for access to land where he can rebuild, the tents will serve as classrooms for about 160 children.

Reading a magazine

Many of the schools like this one are what are called "private" schools in Haiti. Because the school system can't provide enough classrooms and the demand for education is high enough, a private school industry has existed for many years in Haiti. Parents pay between $100 and $300 per year for school, not including books, uniforms, and supplies. This cost represents a very big sacrifice for many families.

And the headmaster told us that this past year many of the parents could not pay school fees because they lost jobs and homes and spouses. He was hanging on, trying to keep his school running, paying rent and teacher salaries. The support from Save the Children in the form of tents, furniture, teacher training and supplies was a big part of what kept his students in school.

This school is one of 270 in Haiti that Save the Children has supported. Education is a key program for the future of Haiti and we hope to invest more and raise more funds for education in 2011. It remains the most important thing we can focus on for Haiti's children and meeting Beatrice today just made me all the more convinced that school has to be a big part of what Save the Children does in Haiti this year.

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Learn more about our recovery response to the earthquake in Haiti.

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Haiti One Year On: Revisiting Leogane

PK_morley_miles_ramm_00 Carolyn Miles, Chief Operating Officer, Save the Children

Leogane, Haiti

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

 

We started out early today to head to Leogane – the same drive I made 10 months ago on my first visit after the earthquake. With a beautiful morning dawning we started out and I have to say, I was hopeful as we passed into the epicenter area, the hardest hit by the quake.

Heading out to survey Save the Children programs

There were significant signs that progress was being made. All along the coast of the southern finger of land out from Port-au-Prince, rubble removal was evident and most importantly, the regular "busyness" of Haiti had returned. Little stalls selling clothes, mangoes, shoes, and all manner of car accessories – sometimes all from the same little wooden shop – had re-established root on the sidewalk or the edge of the road. Motorbikes and cars clogged the busy road and people were on the way to jobs, and kids to the first "official" day back to school, spiffed up in clean uniforms and shoes.

The camps and tents along the way were larger though, with more people and looked more established than I remembered. Clearly there were still many people who had not moved back to their homes or towns.

As we drove into Leogane city, I was again struck by the number of people out on the streets and the contrast with those much quieter times after the earthquake. People then were still living in fear of the aftershocks and many were in full mourning for the ones they had lost – mothers, fathers, sons, daughters and so many others.

 

Sharing a story

 

We reached the Save the Children office in the middle of town and hundreds of people were there – volunteers and staff all with particular assignments to go work in the camps, on water and sanitation projects, or with local schools. We quickly said hello to Samuel, the head of Leogane office and headed out to the programs. As we drove down the road, several large trucks full of rubble rumbled by – it seemed here in Leogane the clearing process was still needed but a lot of progress had been made.  We saw backhoes and frontloaders – both non-existent in the country after the quake – moving tons of rubble. They say only about 10 percent of the rubble has been cleared in Port-au-Prince still but Leogane clearly had made much more progress.

We first visited the recently completed school constructed by Save the Children just down the road from the center of town. While today was the first day of school officially, many of the kids typically don't show up till later in the week. Still, there were about 60 children there, dressed in crisp white shirts and blue skirts or shorts, the girls' hair with white ribbons, beads and bows. Many of these children were living in tents or simple plywood houses after the earthquake and we marveled over how much effort must have gone in to preparing them for school.

The school itself was very uniquely constructed to withstand earthquakes and hurricanes, with open vents along the top and sides and wood construction meant to "give" with flaps of plastic sheeting that could be rolled up and down depending on the temperature and winds.  The headmistress of the school spoke with us and seemed very happy with the way the school and her pupils were starting the new year.  

Making new friends

In a class of what looked like 4th graders, the lesson was on fractions, with a little girl next to me afraid to raise her hand. I urged her on, but she confided she had not remembered to study fractions over the holiday break with a shy smile – kids are the same everywhere. I thought about my own 3rd grade daughter who also didn't do much studying over break!.

We headed next to the Save the Children health clinic and baby tent.  The clinic is made up of two open air shelters and 3 small medical services structures. In one, a midwife examined pregnant moms, gave advice on family planning, and examined toddlers.

In another, a full pharmacy was operating with medicines available free to the local residents. In the third building, several nurses weighed and measured babies, helped mothers breastfeed and gave out supplemental food to malnourished children. The malnutrition rate in Haiti was over 60 percent before the earthquake and it continues to be a major problem. Mothers could take home supplies of Plumpy'nut, a peanut-based meal in a pouch which significantly reduces malnutrition in young children, from the health clinic.

Visiting with patients of a cholera treatment unit

The clinic was impressive, with over 50 patients being served when we arrived. Our worry was about on-going funding though, as much of the earthquake funding would soon be used. In fact the ability to keep many of the programs going without increased funding is a constant worry for our staff in Haiti. Though we raised over $88M for the response, clearly there were many programs that were going to have to continue. Our original 5 year plan called for a budget of $175M and we are far short of that goal now.

But as we headed off from the health clinic, I knew we had to continue these programs somehow and hoped that the anniversary of the earthquake might remind people of the needs in Haiti again.

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Learn more about our recovery response to the earthquake in Haiti.

Help Us Respond to the Haiti Earthquake Recovery. Please Donate Now.

Kampala Notebook: What African Union Promises Could do for Mothers and Children

Chikezie Chikezie Anyanwu, Save the Children's Africa Advocacy Advisor

Kampala, Uganda

July 28, 2010

Today I’m recovering from the last three days marathon of the heads of state meeting at the African Union summit.  With the theme of “Maternal, Newborn and Child Health and Development in Africa,” this summit offered the perfect chance to muster major action to save the lives of millions of children and mothers.    

I’m sorry to say that although Africa has around 12 percent of the world’s population, half the world’s child and maternal deaths occur here.  So there’s much work to be done.   

A few days ago, I wrote here what Save the Children and many other advocates and experts were calling on our leaders to deliver at this summit.  I’m happy to report good news.  African heads of state have issued a declaration on that includes many commitments we believe are necessary to dramatically reduce the annual 4.5 million child deaths and 265,000 maternal deaths on the continent.    

On the resources question, the leaders recommitted themselves to meeting their 2001 promise in Abuja to devote 15 percent of their national budgets to health.  In reality, few countries have reached this goal as of yet.  In the last budget year only three did—Rwanda, Tanzania, and Liberia—and that’s down from six countries the year before.  So I’m happy that African leaders recognize they must continue to chase this goal, and not just push it aside.  Prioritizing health funding is central to results in maternal, newborn and child health.    

The leaders also promised to strengthen their health systems “to provide comprehensive, integrated maternal, newborn, and child health care services.”  They listed several important strategies, including addressing the health worker shortage as we had called for.     

The leaders themselves called the current situation a “human resource crisis.”  They pledged to train community health workers to help fill the gap.  That’s good policy because you don’t need a huge amount of money or time to train these workers, and they can deliver most of the services needed to save mothers and children’s lives.  Also, these workers come from the community and, especially when they are women, they can reach mothers and children who are isolated from existing health services.     

However, I’ll point out that while community health workers can deliver lifesaving prenatal and Afr new born healthpostnatal care, and prevention and treatment for leading child killers pneumonia, diarrhea, and malaria, they cannot necessarily provide skilled attendance at birth.  That’s also critical to saving mothers’ and newborns’ lives.  So African nations must also look at ways to increase the number of midwives, nurses, and doctors—and work to retain these professionals.     

Another major concern of Save the Children and partners has been around making sure health services reach all women and children.  Too often, poorer mothers and children don’t have the same access to health care (and thus survival) as better-off compatriots.  So I was very pleased to see the leaders pledge to reduce out-of-pocket payments and to single out a strategy we’ve pushed for—making health care for pregnant women and children under 5 free.     

The final pieces of good news that came out of the Summit was the decision to institute a strong and functional monitoring and evaluation framework at national level for data generation, the establishment of a continental task force on Maternal, newborn and child health as well as commitment to an annual report to the AU assembly moving forward on Maternal, newborn and child mortality. This should help hold governments accountable for their delivery on maternal, newborn and child mortality interventions.       

If the leaders follow through on what they’ve pledged in Kampala, you can be certain that many more African children and mothers will survive and go on to lead healthy, productive lives.  That’s good for families, communities, and the very future of the continent.    

So there’s the question of that word “if.”      

In the closing ceremony last night, President Bingu wa Mutharika of Malawi implored his fellow leaders to act on the declarations they had passed.    

He said: “The time has come for us is to go for action, so that our people are able to see and appreciate the tangible results and benefits that this organization will bring to them.  I believe that we have the means, and we have the political will to do so.  Let us use these means and the political will to show to our people and the rest of the world that indeed we mean to move the economic and social transformation of our continent.”    

Amen to that!    

I hope African heads of state will heed Bingu’s words, because they are the ones with the power to transform promises into action.  If the political will is indeed there, African mothers, newborns, and children will stop dying of preventable causes.  So let’s continue to raise our voices, and do our part to build and sustain that political will!