Back to School

3rd October, 2016

Schools here in Haiti returned at the beginning of September but many didn’t bother attending regularly until October began. The reason for this is mainly due to the pressure of the high cost of education relative to income in the country. There is no ‘free education’ in Haiti and families struggle to send their children to school, to buy their books and uniforms.

School children enjoying a meal

School children enjoying a meal

Haitian school children

Haitian school children

The policy is that the children are allowed come to school in normal clothes for the month of September but by 1st October they are expected to have their uniform. However, many simply don’t come much till October arrives but overall there has been an improvement in this regard over the past few years as education has become more of a priority for parents in the Jean Rabel area.

The Religious Sisters of Jesus and Mary have been instrumental in this regard, having established 6 pre-schools/primary schools in the area catering for about 600 children and implementing a sponsorship programme with up to 200 children having their education funded.

Attending school takes on a whole new meaning when you speak about the situation in Haiti. It’s not just a place of learning or academics, although of course these are important. The school is also the place where students learn to socialise, to co-operate with others, to build relationships and to have some fun. Without schools in the area (and many children locally don’t have a school place) children would be isolated from their peers, would spend much of their day doing household chores, such as going to the river and dragging home heavy containers of water. (I have seen children as young as about 3 years of age doing this on a daily basis). Other tasks they would do would be accompanying their parent to the market place to sell their produce. Many children spend hours and days sitting it out with their parents and learning the tricks of the parents’ trade. Many make long journeys to and from the market place on donkeys, carting heavy produce backwards and forwards. And many simply have little to stimulate them throughout the day, living in isolated areas with little outside human contact and very often little or no food to eat.

When a child gets a school place and is sponsored for the expenses that come with that privilege, their lives change dramatically. They have the esteem of being on a par with their comrades, of having a uniform that gives them a sense of dignity and importance, the opportunity to learn, to play, to help others and be helped by others and to enjoy elements of their childhood, to have some fun!

But the main benefit for a child attending school in this part of Haiti is the fact that he/she will receive a meal during the school day. Therefore, in one sense the earlier they begin to attend school the greater the opportunity for their nourishment, which will lengthen their lives, help with their ability to function fully and to concentrate and learn. This will give the opportunity for a better quality of life, of health and of future prospects for the child and indirectly for the whole locality.

So as I said at the beginning, having a school place empowers each and every child and thereby each and every community. It’s the place to go to be nourished not only socially and academically but most importantly, physically. First and foremost, the school is the place where the basic need for food for survival is met. From there other developments can be realised in their own time, but for many in this remote area of North West Haiti, without that important school place children often go hungry, are neglected and badly clothed and sometimes they are even used for others’ gain. Hopefully these things will continue to change for the better for each and every child in our area as people become familiar with the importance of nourishment during the first 5 years of a child’s life and education as a means to improvement and development in the long term.

Photos: courtesy of www.flicker.com

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