Port-au-Prince, March 8, 2010 : (Panos Caribbean) One of the most serious consequences of the earthquake that shook Haiti on January 12, 2010 is the increasing number of school-aged children loitering in public squares and in the streets of Port-au-Prince. Some of them, now orphans, are at risk of never returning to school. A sure recipe for delinquency and other negative influences. Stanley Licet, 14 years old, has been living for more than one month under a tent in Place Saint-Pierre in Petion-Ville. The small house in which he lived crumbled to the ground during the January 12, 2010 earthquake. His parents, a vendor and a carpenter, were unable to take to safety anything from the 2-bedroom home which had been their home for twelve years. Not even the little radio that was used for their entertainment. To occupy himself, Stanley spends his days sleeping or chatting with other children in the town square. ‘Since I’ve been here, I don`t have anything else to do but play football or dominos,’ he said, hiding his face as if he were ashamed of his new life. The life that Stanley, a ninth grade student, is leading today is so boring that he sometimes escapes the company of his peers to walk the streets alone. ‘At this time of the day I would be in my classroom with my classmates. I would be at school”, said the young teenager, who was roaming Oge Street alone on February 18. I thought the situation was going to change’, he said, seemingly confused. Stanley clearly thought he would have been able to go back to school quickly. But there are so many hurdles to overcome before one can even talk about re-opening schools in Port-au-Prince and in the other regions affected By the devastating cataclysm. According to a preliminary damage assessment carried out By UNESCO on the education sector, 8000 educational institutions were destroyed, hundreds of others damaged and more than a thousand teachers lost their lives in the January 12 disaster. ‘My school building was practically destroyed. Even if it had not been destroyed, I would not have been able to resume classes so quickly because there are still bodies around the school compound under the rubble that are giving off a foul stench and toxic gases that are dangerous to public health’, explains Rebecca, a teenage girl who lives in a temporary settlement in Delmas 62. Like many other school children in these makeshift camps in Port-au-Prince, this school girl lost all her basic school supplies under the piles of concrete. ‘I didn`t have the time to take my backpack. I don`t have anything to go to school, not even an exercise book,’ she said. In similar circumstances, Camblard Christiane, the mother of young Addoram Etilus, a 7-year old grade three student, explains ‘ I can`t talk about school at the moment. My house and everything in it was destroyed. Moreover, the elementary school that my son was attending in Darbonne collapsed. The orphans are the most vulnerable There are thousands of school children who find themselves today in such circumstances. Even worse, those who have become orphans due to the earthquake may no longer return to school if nothing is done By the government or By non governmental organizations to assist them. This is the case with Bessitho Joseph, an eighth grade student. His mother, a widow for some years now, who struggled to pay for his schooling and that of his little sister, lies dead under the rubble of their hovel located in Nerette. The young teen expressed his wish to return to school. But one fundamental question remains unanswered in order for his wish to come true: Who will pay for his schooling? “I don`t know if I`ll ever get the opportunity to return to my classroom. I put everything in destiny`s hands, wherever that may lead” said the young survivor nonchalantly. This series of events could push him into a state of isolation, juvenile delinquency or down other paths of questionable morality. According to the psychologist Bernadin Amazan, the surviving children who have lost loved ones to the earthquake, are prone to post traumatic stress syndrome. “The symptoms include a sense of loss of interest and withdrawal into oneself. The individual tends to withdraw from others and no longer wants to get involved, under the pretext that he or she no longer has a reason to get involved or lacks the motivation to do so,” explains Mr. Bernadin. This feeling of loneliness and of retreat makes them even more vulnerable to social influences and bad morals. ‘These children need to be taken care of immediately. They are fragile and susceptible to delinquency,’ warns the sociologist Jorel Rene. ‘Without proper monitoring, these young people, especially the young female orphans, may become rape victims or victims of different violent or sexual attacks,’ explains Alix Andre, director of Phare National, an association involved in sexual health and reproduction in Delmas 49. At the Institute of Social Welfare and Research (IBSER), a support programme for the children was put in place shortly after the earthquake. For the moment however, only children living in charity institutions benefit from this programme. ‘We do not yet have a programme for school children who have become orphans or find themselves in difficulty. We currently assist orphanages and nurseries that are victims of the January 12 catastrophe,’ explains Roosevelt Jean Louis, Assistant Director of Social Services at the Institute. Other national and international organizations, in partnership with the Haitian government, have made feeble attempts over the past couple of weeks to establish recreational programs in some of the settlement camps as psycho-social support for the children. These cognitive and entertaining activities play a major role in the lives of these young people, most of whom have been traumatized.
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