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Hurricane Matthew Closes Schools for Thousands of Haiti's Children

United Nations police from Bangladesh deliver drinking water to residents of Sous-Roche village, outside Les Cayes, Haiti, Oct. 11, 2016.
United Nations police from Bangladesh deliver drinking water to residents of Sous-Roche village, outside Les Cayes, Haiti, Oct. 11, 2016.

As Haiti cleans up the destruction wrought by Hurricane Matthew, which killed more than 1,000 people and destroyed thousands of homes, the storm has also disrupted the education of many school children in the country.

School has resumed for students in many parts of Haiti that escaped the worst of Matthew's wrath, but an estimated 100,000 children are missing class after their schools were either reduced to rubble or converted to makeshift shelters.

In battered Les Cayes in southwest Haiti, many whose homes were blown away by Matthew remain holed up in Dumarsais Estime National School, meaning children were unable to resume class.

Bernadette Saint-Louis, a 38-year-old hawker of bananas and beans, said she came to the shelter with her four children as the storm approached.

Like her, many who lost everything to the hurricane had little if any money to send their children to school - and little option when nearby schools had been knocked down.

"Only God knows what I will do for them," she said. "I have nothing to live on."

While the capital, Port-au-Prince, sustained little lasting damage from the hurricane, the damage to schools along Haiti's southern coast has raised questions about how to resume the school year in the area.

At least 300 schools in the region were destroyed or were being used as shelters, meaning over 100,000 children were missing class, UNICEF said.

Education in Haiti is a political hot-button issue ahead of a looming presidential election, which has been delayed again by the storm. Virtually every major presidential candidate has promised to expand access to schooling.

At the start of the school year in September, amid persistently high unemployment, inflation and stagnant economic growth, the cost of school fees, books and uniforms was a major topic in local media for weeks.

Interim President Jocelerme Privert cited the damage to schools in an interview on Tuesday.

"We must find a way to make them functional," he said.

That is also the hope of Haitian school director Jean-Emmanuel Pierre-Louis. Shortly after the storm passed over the area, he stood in the remains of his office in the Centre of Classical Training College of Port Salut.

The damage was severe. The private school, which had been built on the side of the mountain where teachers and students had views of green, rolling hills, no longer had a roof and chunks of its walls were now rubble scattered across the floor.

Pierre-Louis pointed to a periodic table of elements, all that was left of the chemistry lab. Files of some of the 350 students had been laid out to dry on surfaces under the sun.

Salvaged benches sat stacked outside. The remains of some classrooms were too precarious to venture into.

Pierre-Louis' home was destroyed by the hurricane, as were those of family members and students.

"What will we do with the students if the state and the international community does not intervene?" he asked.

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