“Education is a haven of love”

Francesca, Elodie, Givelore and Ericka, four girls happy to be back to school.

Francesca, Elodie, Givelore and Ericka, four girls happy to be back to school.

At Notre Dame de Lourdes School, we have met Francesca, Elodie, Givelore and Ericka, four girls happy to be back to school. This school was one of those that was able to reopen quickly after Matthew thanks to UNICEF, which has partnered with Episcopal Commission for Catholic Education.

On November 23 2016, Sister Marie Thérèse Germain, director of Notre Dame de Lourdes school, smiles as she watches her students leave the classroom. Today there were 430 children present. “There are usually 608 children. The elementary level returned two weeks ago, once work on their building was done but pre-schoolers have not started yet as rehabilitation work is still ongoing,” she says, looking satisfied. “We have a lot of work to do.  A lot of work! When Matthew arrived on October 3, we had only been in classes for one month.  We need to make up for lost time. It’s time to learn!” she says, amused, as she looks at four girls who linger in the schoolyard.

Francesca, 6 years old, is in 1st year, Elodie, 7 years old, is in 2nd year, and Givelore and Ericka, both 8 years old, are in 3rd year; they burst out in laughter and run off to play.

The girls are happy to be back to school. Elodie tells us that her favourite subjects are writing, reading and doing homework. “Me too,” adds Ericka, “I really enjoy doing my homework!”  The playful girls run off once again, this time to return home. With classes done for the day, it’s time to do homework now.

This school was one of those that was able to reopen quickly after Matthew thanks to UNICEF, which has partnered with CEEC (Episcopal Commission for Catholic Education).

René Fermond shows the damages in the Marie Pierre Louis à Desormeaux.© Maxence Bradley

René Fermond shows the damages in the Marie Pierre Louis à Desormeaux.© Maxence Bradley

According to the Ministry of Education, at least 716 schools[1] were damaged by hurricane Matthew nationwide. UNICEF is currently supporting the rehabilitation of 121 schools[2] in the departments of Grand’Anse, Nippes, South and North-West that will enable 40,000 schoolchildren to resume their education.

It is estimated that about 300,000 school-aged children[3] require a package of interventions to facilitate their access to classes. Located primarily in the South, Grand’Anse, Nippes, West, North-West and Central regions, they are directly affected by the multiple crises facing the country. It’s not only hurricane Matthew that has had an impact; there has been a prolonged drought caused by el- Niño, cholera persists, and cross-border populations entering Haiti all have an impact on children and their education. That’s why it’s necessary to put interventions in place such as the rehabilitation of schools and health facilities, the distribution of learning and teaching supplies in schools, the organisation of psychosocial support sessions for affected children and educational staff, and encouraging schools and teachers to use the modified school calendar and pedagogical package designed by the Ministry of Education to assist students to catch up with the lost class-time.  Education is critical in equipping children with the skills that will help them to learn, to protect themselves against cholera and other water-borne diseases,[4] to seek help when they need it, and to thrive in the years ahead.

UNICEF Haiti - 70th Anniversary photo project

René is the founding director of the Marie Pierre Louis school.© Maxence Bradley

There is much talk about national and international organizations’ and the Haitian state’s actions in support of education.  The Haitian communities  must not be left behind.

On the road from Jérémie to Dame Marie, at the Desormeaux’s city limits, a sign proclaims “School Marie Pierre Louis. Education is a haven of love”.   We decided to stop and see this haven, and by good fortune we had the opportunity to meet René Fermond.  René is the founding director of the Marie Pierre Louis school.  While young members of the community work to fix the school, René, the director since 1990, is accompanied by two young brothers: 5-year old Valery, and Reginald, who is seven.

The school reopened on November 7, but with some misgivings because of the rain that has been falling incessantly since the hurricane,” he says. The school was devastated by the hurricane, as was René’s house. “The school’s furniture has been destroyed, the school equipment is ruined, and the walls have to be repaired. The young people of the community are busy today working toward regaining their access to education.”

The Departmental Director of Education of Grand’Anse, Jean Marcel Jeanty, has confirmed that about 60% of the schools affected have reopened[5], however few children have returned to school, particularly because of the losses suffered by families.

Rene, Valery and Reginald. © Maxence Bradley

Rene, Valery and Reginald. © Maxence Bradley

For 26 years René has been welcoming students without resources from his locality. “I welcome the poor. Those who can give a little money, ‘a little kob’[6] do so. Those who do not have the means are welcome anyway. I feel that my compatriots here in Haiti often do not recognize the value of the destitute. It is a poor country. People come from outside to help us. But we ourselves can do a lot for our communities. I encourage people to realize that. Take a look at the poorest, the smallest, I want to foster solidarity.”

You know,” he continues, “I have dedicated my life to helping the poorest, it is my choice to live like this and it hasn’t been easy, but I wouldn’t change my decision for anything in the world. If everyone could help others, even a little, the world would be better off. But here when I say those kinds of things, some people call me crazy’’, he says with a huge smile.

Caring for the poorest and acting with kindness and empathy, the acts of a madman?  I dream of a world filled with more ‘crazy’ people like René as we take to the road again, this time to Dame Marie where our partner FONDEFH (Foundation for the Development and Management of the Haitian Family) is currently screening children in a shelter for malnutrition.

Julie Harlet

UNICEF Haiti Communication

[1] Ministry of Education

[2] UNICEF Haiti Situation Report #15 25 November 2016.

[3] Source UNICEF Education, Education Sector

[4] Haiti HNO 2017 Humanitarian Need Assessment Education in Emergency.

[5] Declaration from 1st December 2016.

[6]  ‘’A bit of money’’.

This post is also available in: French