Haiti: Education Is Key to Recovery

HELP AND HOPE. Sister Augusta Ernest, principal at St. Martin de Porres School in Hinche, Haiti.

Bishop Launay Saturne of Jacmel has a vision that he believes could change the future of Haiti. He wants to build partnerships between Catholic parishes in other countries and Catholic schools in his diocese—modeled on the medical missions that many parishes in developed nations already have established in Haiti.

“We need direct help. We’re not asking for money. But we want people to come and get involved, because the children cannot learn. The teachers are not being paid. The schools are in bad shape,” he said.

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Haiti’s schools are a far cry from those of the neighboring Dominican Republic, let alone those of more developed countries: Textbooks and basic supplies are hard to come by; few teachers have more than a ninth-grade education; buildings are in need of repair; equipment is virtually nil.

“To evangelize I have to do it through reinforcement of the human spirit. For me to do so, I have to do it through education. It’s the only way,” Bishop Saturne said.

Haitians 25 years and older have on average 4.9 years of education, and only 29 percent attended secondary school. “We have a population where the majority of people are unemployed,” explained Archbishop Guire Poulard of Port-au-Prince.

Haiti’s 2010 earthquake exacted a major toll on educational facilities. In some communities as many as 90 percent of students lost their schools, many of which have yet to be rebuilt. Others, like Christ the King School in the capital, conduct some classes under corrugated metal awnings inside the shell of the destroyed parish church.

Help for schools must come from outside sources because the government provides little funding for education. Ninety percent of primary schools are private, operated by religious organizations, nongovernmental organizations and community groups, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The World Bank reports that 24 percent of Haitians live in abject poverty. After the initial response to the earthquake emergency, Catholic Relief Services refocused its efforts on human development. Jeff McIntosh, deputy country representative for programming in Haiti for Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ overseas relief and development agency, said that a lack of basic services—like disposal of waste, including human waste—hinders advancement. He explained that the problems Haiti is facing “predate the earthquake,” adding that “many people say it wasn’t the earthquake that caused all the damage,” but poverty. C.R.S. has turned to the agricultural sector to help boost livelihoods. Coffee and cocoa are two crops that can bring much-needed income to growers, McIntosh said.

In the background of Haiti’s education and development challenges lies a simmering political crisis. Opposition leaders cite President Michel Martelly’s inability to live up to campaign promises to remake Haiti’s image in the wake of the earthquake. A long disagreement over election rules between the president and a group of opposition senators led Parliament to dissolve in January and Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe to resign, leaving Martelly to rule by decree.

The announcement on March 13 by Haiti’s electoral council that long-overdue elections for Parliament and president will be held this year may quell protests that have been occurring since October.

Archbishop Poulard said he viewed the opposition as shaping actions for their own benefit. “They don’t care so much about the possible catastrophic consequences that could be the result of their action.”

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