Friday, August 13, 2010

The Struggle for Education in Haiti

By Darren Ell
August 10, 2010 PrintWrite to editor Support rabble Corrections

Following the Jan. 12 earthquake, 1,263 out of 4,716 schools in western Haiti were destroyed and another 2,541 were damaged; 376,000 students were out of school and an unknown number of teachers and students were dead or wounded.

The earthquake exposed in gruesome detail the legacy of centuries of colonial practices which created a weak Haitian State unable to properly house or educate its population. The debt of independence, a corrupt local elite, and their friends abroad ensured that successive Haitian governments responded to the needs of a privileged minority. In 2000, the American, French, and Canadian governments cut aid to poor Haitians when the latter voted for the most progressive government in their history. In 2004, these same governments overthrew the Aristide regime, ushering in two years of terror during which social spending was slashed.

Prior to the earthquake, Haiti's government funded a mere 10 per cent of Haiti's elementary and secondary schools. The rest are funded privately with foreign assistance. Parents earning two dollars a day cannot afford fees, materials and uniforms, and must choose which of their children attends school. Half a million children don't attend school in Haiti. Many stop and start throughout the year and only four per cent finish high school.

To understand the impact of the earthquake on Haiti's struggling schools, I traveled to Haiti with Ryan Sawatzky, President of the Orillia, Ontario-based Sawatzky Family Foundation (SFF). The SFF funds SOPUDEP (Société de Providence Unie pour le Développement de Pétionville) one of Haiti's private schools, which is located in Morne Lazarre, a poor community in the Port-au-Prince suburb of Pétionville. SOPUDEP offers accessible education to the poor by waiving the mandatory fees charged by other schools.

The director, Rea Dol, began serving the poor in the 1990s.

"Before SOPUDEP became a school, it was a democratic space where community members voiced their needs and aspirations," she says.

Political ideals found fertile ground in 2000, when the Aristide regime announced literacy funding. She created SOPUDEP, opening adult literacy programs then a K-12 school. The SFF helped Dol double SOPUDEP's enrolment, feed the students daily, and open a program for street children.

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