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Three-year-old Islore, right, who is blind, has been attending the early childhood development and education program, and has shown great improvement in basic skills. She is pictured here with her mother Tania and sister Benshena. (Christian Fuchs — Jesuit Refugee Service/USA

by Christian Fuchs
Jesuit Refugee Service/USA

(Fond Parisien, Haiti) May 10, 2011 — Jesuit Refugee Service is seeking to provide a head start to students in this small town near the Haitian border with the Dominican Republic. Located at the foot of a long valley that cuts through the mountains of Haiti towards a huge lake, the small town of Fond Parisien is the site of an early childhood development program being funded by Jesuit Refugee Service/USA.

While there are many primary schools in Haiti, there are little to no early childhood development and education programs in the country. A group of Catholic nuns in Fond Parisien have been providing the service to 60 children in Fond Parisien, and with the help of JRS they will be able to expand the educational program to serve 220 students in the area. 

Classes are currently held in the community chapel, but a new building is rising just outside of the town center that will allow more students to attend. The school is scheduled to be finished in July of this year, and classes will begin in the new building in August. In addition to the classroom block, a latrine is being constructed, as is a well for fresh water. 

Fond Parisien is located only about an hour from the Haitian capital of Port au Prince, and saw an influx of displaced families from the capital following the January 2010 earthquake. Once the new school is opened, at least 160 more three-, four- and five-year-olds in the area will be able to receive the benefits of an early education. 

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Early childhood development and education is key to successful further education. The World Bank has noted that "the positive effects ECD programs have can change the development trajectory of children by the time they enter school. A child who is ready for school has less chances of repeating a grade, being placed in special education, or being a school drop out." 

A study by the Rand Corporation found that such "programs have been shown to yield benefits in academic achievement, behavior, educational progression and attainment, delinquency and crime, and labor market success, among other domains."

While bolstering the ability of children to succeed in future educational pursuits, the early childhood education program also acts as a protection mechanism for these young Haitians. Displaced and economically vulnerable parents in Haiti are often forced to leave young children alone while they try to eke out a living to keep their families afloat. This program allows parents to work secure in the knowledge that their children are learning in a safe environment.

Three-year-old Islore, who is blind, has been attending the early childhood development and education program, and has shown great improvement in basic skills. 

"She doesn’t talk much at the school, but she is doing much better since starting. She knows her letters and her numbers, and she did not know those before," said her mother, Tania.

Although public education for school-aged youth is ostensibly free in Haiti, the cost is still relatively high for impoverished Haitian families who must pay for uniforms, textbooks and supplies and no government resources have been available for early childhood education.

Throughout the developing world, JRS comes across displaced parents living in poverty forced to choose between paying for their children's education and buying basic essentials. Even when education is nominally free, teachers’ salaries are often not paid, so families are forced to contribute. Too often, parents, unable to afford the costs of their children’s education, are forced to take them out of school. Unfortunately, those in the most vulnerable circumstances suffer disproportionately, including girls and children with disabilities.   

JRS hopes to build on previously successful early childhood education programs and replicating the success here in Haiti. To help achieve that goal, JRS is funding the entire project from construction and furnishings to meals and salaries for teachers. JRS believes that a lack of appropriate educational opportunities to displaced children now will adversely affect both the children and their countries in the future. A generation of children is being lost. Given educational opportunities, they have the potential to rebuild their lives, to help rebuild their communities and thus to strengthen and stabilize their countries for generations to come. 

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