Today – January 12th – marks the fifth anniversary of the Haitian earthquake. Five years is a long time in today’s fast-paced news environment, so it’s worth reminding ourselves of the damage done.
- More than 230,000 people were killed
- Over 1.5 million people displaced.
- Children were orphaned, families were left homeless, and homes, schools and hospitals were destroyed.
We asked our General Manager in Haiti, Jacinta McGuane, to share her thoughts about that disaster, and what has happened in the intervening five years…
Having visited Haiti for the first time on the first anniversary of the earthquake, and lived here since September 2011, I have seen many changes since that dark day five years ago.
Many of those who I have met in my time here were present during the earthquake and its aftermath, and they remember how complete strangers struggled through the dust and the rubble together to rescue others. Five years on and a friend still tries to locate those who rescued her, she just wants to be able to say “thank you”, and to fill in the gaps in her memory of the event. People remember the solidarity during those fraught days and nights, searching for or trying to contact loved ones. Many were so busy helping with searches, they did not stop to eat or sleep, nor realise that they were carrying their own injuries.
I remember sitting on the back of a flat-bed truck in January 2011 as we drove across the city, through dust, rubble and crowded streets, with the smell of death in the air. We were on our way to celebrate the anniversary mass on the hills of Titanyen – a mass burial ground where the unknown have been buried. As we approached Titanyen, the hilltops lit up with a ring of fire, and the funeral band played with all its heart in memory of those who had been lost.
Since then, some of the improvements which I have witnessed include: new and better roads in many areas, regular power supply in urban areas, the building of new schools in the provinces, more medical facilities, children getting back to school after many years of absence and Haiti reopening its doors as a tourist destination. The building of the schools has been thanks to several foundations which are Haitian-run, pre-earthquake, and are here for the long-haul. There are two foundations who look after over 180 schools – they see the need and they act on it.
Since the publishing of the high failure rates in all of the 2014 state exams, the government has taken steps to focus on education. However, like all issues of government, bureaucracy takes time and takes funding.
Schools which have been fortunate to receive funding from our partners in Haiti have received computer labs, some in the provinces have been fortunate to receive solar-power too. The benefits of a computer room to the school and the community are many. Giving training to all of the teachers in the school upgrades their repertoire of skills, gives them an opportunity to develop their French – the language of the Haitian education system. Given that Haitian Creole is the language of the people, many teachers’ own level of education may only be a primary certificate. Access to resources, educational games, reading, Khan Academy Lite and Wikipedia gives them a opportunity to improve their French language and, as a result, improve their teaching.
Visiting schools and homes in the provinces, you will be shocked to realise that few children have schoolbooks, or school materials, they share everything they have. Many of the provincial schools remind me of our history lessons on ‘Hedge Schools’. Education in Haiti has a long way to go, and without our intervention and your support it will take much longer to get anywhere. Education provides a future with possibilities and a better understanding of health, which will speed up the recovery of a country which was crippled five years ago today.