Fort-Liberté. September 11th – It is Monday. One week after the school year started officially in Haiti, schools are once again making a timid effort to reopen their doors. Everyone is eager to turn the page on Irma, yet reality hasn’t quite caught up yet. Even though 12 out of the 13 shelters were evacuated yesterday to ensure that schools can reopen today, some of them are not ready to host their students.
Together with UNICEF colleague Brice, school inspectors and NGO partners, I am part of a joint assessment mission whose purpose is to find out which schools have been flooded or damaged during Irma. The ambition is to focus the limited resources where they are most needed, to make sure that all students can get back to the classroom quickly.
But the challenge goes beyond school infrastructure. “Many of our teachers and the families of our students have seen their homes flooded during Irma. They are not in school because they are busy recuperating what can be saved.” Explains us Maitre Jean Baptiste, the director of Mebane school. Indeed out of the six schools that my team visits three didn’t have students today, and the others had only a small part of their usual effectif.
Access is another issue. Already challenging to reach in the dry season some schools are circled in by mud and small streams as a consequence of heavy rainfall. In the attempt to reach the school of Beudoux, on top of our list because of reported damages, our car gets stuck twice. And only the expertise of Gabrielle our experienced driver saved us from pushing to the shore.
Irma has lifted the fine veil on existing vulnerabilities. “I came to the shelter because the place where I live was flooded. My parents died during the 2010 earthquake, so now I stay with the woman I work for. To make a living I am transporting things from Haiti to the Dominican Republic and back. It’s a while that I haven’t gone to school. It’s too expensive.” Explains Renel, 14 years old. He came to the shelter and once it closed he returned to his life at the margin of society…
The schools, roads, homes that are most affected by Irma are those that were struggling already before. In St Martin, the Storm was strong and crushed solid infrastructure; in Haiti it was soft und weakened further what was fragile before. Mother Nature is giving us another nudge, another lesson on the vital importance of structural investment to unveil Haiti’s sleeping potential. Irma today is not about emergency relief, but about a thorough commitment to local communities. UNICEF is supporting them on their way back, back to school, back to normality, forward to the Future.
This post is also available in: French