Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 8, 1999
Where education is a luxury
chools in Haiti have no amenities, students often hungry, exhausted
By DEACON EUGENE PERABO
Special to the WCR
The familiar yellow bus pulls up in front of any Canadian school and out tumble a group of laughing children. Some are nibbling on snacks from their packed lunches. Others run to the playground equipment and throw a few basketballs before classes start.
When the bell rings, Johnny enters his Grade 3 class - a bright and comfortable room complete with a carpeted reading corner, desks for each child, and colourful posters and charts adorning the walls. The TV is already set up and the children gather round to watch an educational video.
Now, switch to another locale - Les Palmes, Haiti. Maria enters her classroom of 65 students. She sits on a single wooden bench with eight others. There is no back to rest on, no drawers for books or supplies.
Her desk is a board 22-cm wide elevated in front of her and the others in her row. The single chalkboard, chipped and scarred rests against the front wall. The teacher uses a rickety table for a desk and old lesson books donated years ago.
Maria is sleepy. Before her hour-long walk to school today, she and her mother and sister trekked 45 minutes over rugged mountain terrain to the nearest clean water supply. There they filled their four- and 20-litre pails, balanced them on their heads and carried them home for the family's use that day.
Maria had a few mouthfuls of gruel for breakfast; she will not eat again until the end of the day.
Maria's story is not uncommon. Haiti, her small country in the Caribbean, is not only the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, but is arguably one of the poorest countries in the world.
In Haiti, education as a fundamental right cannot be taken for granted. Many children are deprived of a basic education because their parents are unable to raise the required school fees.
Annual tuition may be as low as $30 Haitian (about $15 Canadian), yet for families with a monthly income of $15, education is a luxury that as many as three out of 10 people can't afford. In the mountain community of Les Palmes, only about 10 per cent of the adults are literate.
Many students are without any writing materials. Most have not seen any books. If there are books, all of the children in a class may have the same basic primer text from which they learn to read, whether they are six years old or in their early teens.
One child at a time can read, one child at a time can be at the blackboard and unless they are learning something by rote, the others just patiently wait their turn. Needless to say, since many of the children are hungry and have walked long distances, playing the waiting game just puts them to sleep.
Children are fortunate if they attend school in their early years. Many do not attend school until their teens, when an older sibling has completed elementary education and drops out to work in the fields.
In Cap Hatien, children who have been sent to the city as servants, in exchange for food and accommodation, don't go to school until their teens when they leave their employers and band together to beg for their survival.
The education system in Haiti requires tremendous improvement, but what calibre of teacher are you able to attract with a monthly salary of 100 to 150 Haitian dollars?
Most teachers have not received any formal teacher training. They may have the equivalent of a Grade 9 or 10 education, and then they teach the same way they have been taught, by rote, "repeat after me."
Sometimes, after the long walk to school, students will find that classes have been cancelled because the teacher has found work for the day. In order to feed their own children, teachers must take other small jobs when they can.
The mission of Child Care International is to provide a ray of hope to those children caught in the grip of dehumanizing poverty and an inferior education system. Now operating in over 23 countries, Child Care places special emphasis on helping to provide children with the chance to go to school and assisting teachers to improve the quality of education. We believe education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty and despair.
For more information on how you can make a difference by giving a child a chance, please contact Child Care International, 42 Chapel St., Box 2099, Springhill, NS B0M 1X0, or phone 1-800-776-6855.