For many children around the world, fall means it’s time to go back to school after the long summer holiday. Not so this year in Haiti, which has been pummeled by four back-to-back hurricanes in the past few weeks. Storm winds and floods have destroyed many thousands of homes and businesses, left large parts of the country under several feet of mud, and disrupted the lives of 800,000 people”including 300,000 children.
|UNICEF/ HQ08-0744/Roger LeMoyne|
|HAITI: A boy walks at dusk across a flooded street in the older part of the flood-damaged city of Gonaives. Several weeks after successive hurricanes and tropical storms hit the country, many of the city’s streets remain covered in water and mud.|
In the coastal city of GonaÃƒ¯ves alone, almost 70,000 people have had to leave their homes. Two-year-old Fernando Thermidor and his mom, Judith, were forced to flee when the waters rose, and they’re now living with several thousand others in a school that’s been converted into a temporary shelter.
Though safe from the flooding, Fernando, Judith and the rest of the family are facing other dangers: crammed into a room with almost 200 other people, with no access to clean water or proper sanitation, the risks of contracting diarrhea and water-borne diseases are high. UNICEF is shipping many tons of emergency aid to Haiti, including blankets, hygiene kits, water purification tablets and oral rehydration salts. But with all roads and bridges connecting GonaÃƒ¯ves to the rest of the country washed away, the lifesaving shipments have had to be delivered by boat and helicopter.
|© UNICEF/ HQ08-0735/Roger LeMoyne|
|HAITI: A woman and her infant have taken refuge in a church in the village of Belanger near the flood-affected town of Cabaret. Some 500 families were displaced in the immediate area in the aftermath of successive hurricanes and storms that hit the country.|
Almost 400 schools have been destroyed in the storms and flooding, and the rest are being used as makeshift shelters like the one Fernando and his family are living in. So it’s no surprise that Haiti’s children haven’t been able to return to the classroom.
We’ve written before on this blog about how important it is to get kids back to school as soon as possible after a disaster. Getting kids back to into the classroom is critical, not only so they don’t fall behind in their education, but also because school provides children with a safe and familiar routine at a time when their communities have been torn apart and their lives upended. It’s also a way to make sure that all children get the vital health and nutrition services they need.
In Haiti, the start of the school year was postponed until October 6, and UNICEF is working with the Haitian Ministry of Education to make schools fully functional again. We have to find new homes for people like Fernando and his mom. We have to rebuild, repair and sanitize facilities, and buy new furniture and school materials. There’s much to be done.
In the meantime, we’re distributing School-in-a-Box kits, each containing everything that’s needed to set up a school almost anywhere. Hopefully, they will help Haiti’s children return to some semblance of normal life as the work to clear away the mud continues.
Last week, UNICEF Ambassador Mia Farrow traveled to Haiti to take part in UNICEF’s relief efforts there. You can read an op-ed she wrote about her trip for CNN.com here. We’d love to know your thoughts, too. Write your own op-ed in our comments section below.