CHRISTINE'S STORY: ESCAPING POVERTY THROUGH EDUCATION IN POST-EARTHQUAKE HAITI
(ReliefWeb) - United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) - By Jill Van den Brule
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, 31 August 2010 – Christine, 14, lives in a camp for displaced people near the international airport here in the Haitian capital. "The only thing I know is that I know nothing," says this energetic girl, who cites Socrates as her motivation for going to school.
"A person without education is a life without examination," she says, paraphrasing the ancient philosopher. "You have to study and study to be a big philosopher, a great intellectual."
And Christine has done just that, even though she was out of school for three months following the earthquake that struck Haiti in January, destroying her home and displacing her family.
Siblings not in school
Christine's tattered notebooks, filled with detailed anatomy sketches, are a testament to her desire to become a doctor.
"I want to see with my own eyes what's in the body and understand how my heart beats," she says. "Like the Haitian singer named Jean-Jean Roosevelt says, if we give the world to women, the world would be marvelous, because girls have hearts."
And Christine's heart goes out to her siblings, who are not in school.
Her 15-year-old brother, Jean Renee, has been out of school since just before the quake, when he was forced to drop out. His mother could not afford to pay the school fees and had to make the difficult choice of sending just one of her three children to classes. Now Jean Renee goes to a family friend's garage each day to work as a mechanic's apprentice.
"If I cannot send him to school, I want him to at least learn a trade and stay out of trouble," says his mother.
Meanwhile, Christine's sister Afenyoose, 9, longs to go to school but cannot because it is simply too expensive.
'My mother is my life'
Christine attends one of the few public schools in the country where fees are relatively affordable. But most of Haiti's schools are private, creating a major barrier to education.
"I feel very, very sad that I go to school and my little sister doesn't," says Christine. "I try to teach her what I've learned every evening when I come home from school."
Even for Christine, however, there are barriers to education. For example, teacher absenteeism is a reality in Haiti, because many teachers do not have the resources to get to their jobs.
"I sometimes don't want to go to school because our teachers are not there," says Christine. "My mother says, 'Go to school, there may be teachers who will be in the classroom.' She always gives me the strength.... My mother is my life."
In the displacement camp, Christine's mother sells second-hand tennis shoes that she gets on consignment. She meticulously cleans them with a toothbrush. This is how she supports her family and pays her daughter's school fees. Her objective is to get out of the camp and give her children a better life.
"My mother wasn't able to study. This is why she wants us to go school, so we don't go through the same difficulties she did," says Christine.
The earthquake that shook Haiti destroyed or damaged some 4,000 schools. UNICEF's priority in education has been to re-establish these schools as quickly as possible.
In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, temporary learning spaces were set up in large tents with water and sanitation facilities adapted to children's needs. These temporary tents are being transformed into semi-permanent structures.
"I went to see my school after the quake," Christine recalls. "The primary school next to our school had collapsed on top of my school, crushing a part of my classroom and the head teacher's office. Now we are in learning in a tent, and it's very hot."
It's clear that education is Christine's lifeline – as it could be for all of Haiti's children.
"I want the government to rebuild our schools, because there are children who will come after us," she says. "Without education, there is no life, because education elevates man to the dignity of his well-being."