Over 170 thousand people have been displaced, including children, as a result of damage caused by hurricane Matthew in Haiti, according to OCHA’s report in November 2016. Some of them lost all of their belongings, including their home and their crops, especially in the south of the country, which made it impossible for them to send their children to school. The hurricane damaged 774 schools all over the country, according to the October statement by Minister of National Education and Professional Training. Ketchna is one of those children who would ultimately benefit from UNICEF support to return to school in the South.
We meet Ketchna in Melon, a district in the commune of Maniche, in the South Department of Haiti. Freshly returned from school, the eight-year-old welcomes us at her home with a shy smile. She’s still wearing her blue and white school uniform, with pretty matching ribbons in her hair.
Ketchna likes to sing, to jump rope, and to recite poems. Her eyes brighten when we ask for some verses. She starts with a merry voice: “Cocorico, that’s how our rooster Figaro so early sings. He’s the keeper of the farm. As soon as the sun goes up, he wakes the barnyard up, four turkeys, fourteen ducks, fifteen rabbits, and forty chickens. How graceful, oh! How beautiful he is with his pretty green and blue tail “.
Ketchna and her family owned a barnyard before the hurricane hit Haiti in October 2016. Matthew took everything they owned, including their home. Today, they’re renting a room in the village of Melon, housing all six of them in just nine square meters. They have only one bed and a few kitchen utensils. Ketchna spends her afternoons on the porch, studying or playing:
“This is where I live since Matthew, with my mother, my father, my three brothers and sisters,” explains the little girl. “At night, my mother creates a bed for us on the floor. This is not where I used to live before the hurricane. We had our own house. Matthew completely destroyed it.”
Community solidarity to face life after Matthew
Ketchna leads us to the site of their old house, on the top of a rocky hill in Melon, about thirty minutes’ walk from the village. We stop in front of a fence made of tree branches. The little girl invites us to step over it: “That’s where I used to live, before the hurricane.” Beyond the fence, there is just a pile of rubble, a few mangled corrugated sheets and some broken furniture. That’s all Matthew left of their house. The hurricane took everything from them, their home, their crops, their livestock. Everything was gone in one night. It’s a night about which Ketchna tells us, with a touch of sadness:
“That night, my mother, my father, my brothers and sisters and I were sleeping. I woke up with a start. My bed had collapsed. I heard a lot of noise outside. I looked around. A tree had fallen on the house. There was water everywhere. My brother was crying. His knee was injured. I also got hurt, on my ankle and was scared, so much that I got sick. I threw up, and later I had a fever. My father carried me on his back, and we ran to the neighbour’s. Outside, I saw other people running for shelter. Pieces of corrugated metal sheeting were flying in all directions. After we arrived at the neighbour’s, her house also collapsed. So we all went out again to seek refuge in someone else’s house.”
When I grow up, I would like to …Help others
As hurricane Matthew faded away, Ketchna and her family discovered they truly had nothing left. Not even a change of clothes. The little girl remembers the villagers’ generosity. Another family welcomed them under their roof for a few days. They shared what little food they had. Others gave them new clothes and a bed. Later, Ketchna’s parents were able to rent a house. Her father got a job as a cattle-keeper. Her mother had a small business before the hurricane, but now she no longer has any source of income. Eight-year-old Ketchna understands their situation: “We can no longer pay the rent. I would like everything to be as before. That we have our own house.”
The community solidarity her family benefitted from after the hurricane, influenced Ketchna’s young mind: “When I grow up and finish my studies, I want to become a nurse. I would like to find a job so I can help others.”
However, our young friend’s parents don’t always have the means to afford school fees. Ketchna was also involved in their efforts: “Before Matthew, I had two goats. I took care of them every day. I was planning to sell them to help my parents pay for the school. Now I have nothing left. The hurricane took them away. “
School, a Pillar of Post-Matthew Recovery
Ketchna takes her studies very seriously. She does her homework regularly, and gets good grades at school: “Learning is what I like best.” But even that, Matthew almost took it away.
The National School of Melon had to suspend classes because its roof had been torn away and the school furniture damaged by the hurricane. Classes could only resume one month later, after the roof was repaired through the financial support of UNICEF. Ketchna shows us the new roof of her school buildings. She takes us to the bottom of the large playground, to show us two tanks of treated water and soap near the toilets, placed by the Regional Office of Drinking Water and Sanitation. Under the tanks, an inscription reminds the students of a crucial hygiene principle: Let us wash our hands after using the toilets.
UNICEF supports the rehabilitation of 121 schools and sanitation of 71 schools in the South
The National School of Melon now hosts 416 students, including 5 new ones since the reopening of classes. The new ones are children whose schools have not yet been able to re-open, explains the director, Elisma Prenor: “These children are traumatized by the post-Matthew situation. Most of them have no house to shelter them, and their parents can hardly afford food. Some students no longer have books or uniforms. This affects their academic performance. However, they do not miss even a day of class, and we understand that. For them, the school environment is a refuge. It helps them to regain a normal life.” Ten teachers from the National school of Melon received a training in psychosocial support in February 2017, due to the sponsorship of UNICEF and its partners.
For her, school comes first and foremost
Of the 521 schools evaluated in the Southern Department by the Ministry of National Education and professional Training, 466 were found damaged by Hurricane Matthew. Those that suffered from only minor damage served as temporary shelters for displaced families.
UNICEF is providing support toward the rehabilitation of 121 schools and sanitation of 71 schools in the South as well as replacing furniture such as desks and blackboards in many of these institutions. The United Nations Children’s Fund has also distributed school kits in this area, to facilitate the return to school of children whose families have been affected by the natural disaster.
Ketchna is one of UNICEF’s young beneficiaries, able to return to school after Hurricane Matthew. Tough and motivated, the little girl considers her family’s current situation with maturity. For her, school comes first and foremost.
As we say goodbye, Ketchna accompanies us to her doorstep and recites a few last lines to us, as if to entrust us with a mission: “It is the day of class re-opening. Here is Remy and Sandra. Look! They are under the trees …”
UNICEF Communication-South, Haiti
This post is also available in: French