Education for Haiti’s children
NEW YORK, USA, 25 January 2010 – With nearly half of the country's population under the age of 18, children have been seriously affected by the 12 January earthquake in Haiti. Schools have been destroyed, and children are taking shelter in camps for the displaced. Many have been orphaned or separated from their families.
UN and UNICEF Radio moderator Amy Costello recently spoke with Getty Images senior staff photographer Chris Hondros and UNICEF's Emergency Adviser on Early Childhood Development, Arnaud Conchon, about the situation on the ground in Haiti and the importance of rebuilding and restoring education there.
Mr. Hondros has travelled the world covering humanitarian crises. The devastation in Haiti, he said, "is of a greater scale and magnitude" than other emergencies he's seen.
"I can't think of another calamity in modern history that has struck a country so small, to such a tremendous degree.… The scale here is unbelievable," Mr. Hondros noted.
"I've seen literally thousands of children that have lost their families and parents, and that have just been picked up by strangers," he said, adding that many others, tragically, "have been dug out from the rubble [and] piled into mass graves on the edge of town."
Children suffer 'toxic stress'
Mr. Conchon argued that education "has to be" one of the first lines of response in times of crisis – especially for children who are separated from their families. It's important to assist them in "retrieving a sense of normalcy, establishing some safe and secure spaces where they can interact with caregivers," he said.
If the children are facing "toxic stress," which is typically what happens after disasters such as the Haiti earthquake, "this can have devastating effects for the rest of their lives," Mr. Conchon added. "So it's really critical to think about establishing those safe spaces."
According to Mr. Conchon, this is why UNICEF is immediately sending to Haiti 1,000 of its recently launched Early Childhood Development kits for emergencies.
The kits address the holistic needs of young children, providing basic services related to hygiene and sanitation, health and nutrition, and protection and education. They also contain an illustrative activity guide in French so caregivers can immediately establish an interactive and supportive environment for children.
Building back better than before
Mr. Conchon and Mr. Hondros agreed that that the rebuilding of schools, including pre-primary schools, is vital to Haiti's future. Significantly, even before the disaster, only about half of Haitian children attended primary school.
"School is a safe haven for children," said Mr. Conchon. "This is where they learn. This is where they build their resilience. This is where they are protected. This is where they develop. This is how you save them, basically, in the long run."
Mr. Hondos concluded: "In a lot of ways, Haiti suffered a lot before … and this is an enormous spotlight shined on Haiti now, finally. [If] the international aid that comes in … is well managed and does focus on the education system, I think in fairly short order, schools and secondary education systems can be rebuilt, creating, perhaps in the long run, a better Haiti."