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To accommodate the additional students the Our Lady of Lourdes Parish School moved some classrooms outdoors under ragged tarps, where students learn at desks sitting on dirt and mud. (Christian Fuchs — Jesuit Refugee Service/USA)
by Christian Fuchs
Jesuit Refugee Service/USA

(Anse-à-Pitres, Haiti) May 11, 2011 — The January 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti killed more than 230,000 people and left hundreds of thousands more homeless. Currently Haiti has more than 500,000 displaced people outside of Port au Prince, in so-called "unaffected" areas, and about 160,000 have settled near the Haiti/Dominican Republic border.

Anse-à-Pitres is a beachfront community on the shore of the Caribbean Sea, and is one of four major border crossings between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Across a dry riverbed lies the Dominican city of Pedernales

More than 15,000 people live here, and after the January 2010 earthquake the area absorbed 5,000 more people displaced from Port-au-Prince and Jacmel.  Education in Haiti has been typified by a fee-based private system, with 80% of education services provided by the non-public sector.  The majority of schools were inaccessible for those living outside of Port-au-Prince with 25 percent of Haiti's rural districts not having one school.  Local schools in Anse-à-Pitres are bursting. Half of Haiti's 15,000 primary schools and 1,500 secondary schools were destroyed or badly damaged in the earthquake. To accommodate the additional students the Our Lady of Lourdes Parish School moved some classrooms outdoors under ragged tarps, where students learn at desks sitting on dirt and mud.

"We have 250 students in the current school," said Fr. Andre Helvetius Affricot of Our Lady of Lourdes Primary School. The main building for the school is now an old church, located just a couple of hundred yards for the sea. While beautiful in April, the sea can quickly turn deadly during hurricane season. 

"During a storm in May 2004, the town was under water. During hurricanes, the ocean rises and it floods here. The new school location is much safer, it's higher and farther from the sea, and can be used as an emergency shelter during a hurricane," said Fr. Andre. 

The Canadian government is funding the construction of a large new school in the hills outside of town to accommodate 600 students. In contrast to the current school, which is housed in a dilapidated old church with poor lighting indoors and sagging tarps outdoors, the new school will have real walls, floors, ceilings, electricity, a library and internet access. Jesuit Refugee Service is providing 600 desks to the school, and plans to also offer scholarships.

Although public education for school-aged youth is ostensibly free in Haiti, the biggest challenge for parents is being able to buy their child one pair of shoes, two school uniforms, books and notebooks, and to be able to pay the $100 fee — $10 per month during the school year — to sustain the operations of the school.  

The literacy levels in Haiti still hover at an abysmal 53% literacy rate for school-aged children, while only 38% of Haitians above the age of 15 are literate, with significantly less adult literacy among women than among men. Before the earthquake, many youth received inferior, truncated, and segregated education. As children under the age of 18 account for almost half of Haiti’s total population of nine million people, a free universal education system is undoubtedly a critical element in rebuilding and strengthening the nation’s political and socio-economic development.  

To meet the needs of children in Anse-à-Pitres, while the Haitian government’s Ministry of Education labors to put in place a plan to provide free public education for school-aged youth, JRS is covering the operational costs for displaced students. A JRS scholarship program will provide $100 directly to the school for each displaced child enrolled, and also about $150 directly to students for shoes, uniforms and school supplies so the child is able to attend school. 

The JRS belief that primary, secondary and higher education must be decentralized so that it is available to those who live outside of major urban centers led us to concentrate on education initiatives in the border regions. 

"We invest in education because an educated person is beneficial to society. My goal is to have an education center with primary, secondary and technical schools," said Fr. Andre.  

A large investment the school would like to make is the purchase of a bus. The $65,000 vehicle is needed for younger students to reach the new school.

"The new school is several miles away from the center of town, and up in the hills in higher ground safe from potential flooding. In case of natural disasters, school facilities will serve as the main shelter for town residents.  With no public transportation locally available, a bus would be a great help to transport the children to the school, especially the younger students, the ones in kindergarten," said Fr. Andre.



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Jesuit Refugee Service/USA is an international Catholic non-governmental organization whose mission is to accompany, serve and defend the rights of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons. 

JRS/USA witnesses to God’s presence in vulnerable and often forgotten people driven from their homes by conflict, natural disaster, economic injustice, or violation of their human rights.  

As one of the ten geographic regions of the Jesuit Refugee Service, JRS/USA serves as the major refugee outreach arm of U.S. Jesuits and their institutional ministries, mobilizing their response to refugee situations in the U.S. and abroad. Through our advocacy and fund raising efforts, JRS/USA also provides support for the work of JRS throughout the world.  

JRS/USA gives help, hope, ear and voice to vulnerable people on the move by being present to and bearing witness to their plight; by relieving their human suffering and restoring hope; by addressing the root causes of their displacement and improving international responses to refugee situations. 

In addition, JRS/USA inspires the Ignatian family and others to respond together to the needs of refugees and displaced persons worldwide and forges strong partnerships with like-minded institutions and agencies devoted to the cause of refugees and displaced persons.

JRS works in more than 57 countries worldwide to meet the educational, health, social and other needs of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons. JRS services are made available to refugees and displaced persons regardless of their race, ethnic origin, or religious beliefs.

JRS provides primary and secondary education to approximately 170,000 children, and undertakes advocacy to ensure that all displaced children are provided with a quality education.

Jesuit Refugee Service/USA is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Donations are tax-deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law.


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