Thousands of Haitian schools reopened their doors for a new school year last month, thanks in part to the support of the United States and other international donors. As Haiti's government works to recover from years of instability, foreign aid remains a key source of backing for its struggling education system. VOA's Brian Wagner has this report.
One year ago, violence involving criminal gangs, police and U.N. peacekeepers tore apart Cite Soleil in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince. Since then, joint police efforts have brought peace to the nation's largest slum, and allowed residents to return and businesses to reopen. The streets are much safer without drug gangs around, but there are still few opportunities for Haiti's youth to receive an education and rise out of poverty.
On one Cite Soleil corner, resident Job Civil says he and many others long for opportunities to help them escape long days of boredom. "Young people like us are on our own. We need an environment that will give us an education and create jobs that we can do in the community."
One nearby school for about 300 primary students is struggling to reopen after violence forced it to close in 2005. The director says he missed the start of the new school year in September, but he hopes to open in a few weeks with the help of the United Nations mission.
Across Haiti, international and private funding are crucial to the education system. Some 90 percent of primary schools are supported by religious or community groups. Conditions in Haiti and years of instability mean Haiti's government can support only a fraction of the nation's 15,000 primary schools.
Ernst Alexis is the assistant principal at a religious school in Port-au-Prince. He says parents also bear the financial burden to send their children to school. "Students, parents and schools must make constant sacrifices. Parents will do anything to find ways to send their children to school."
Alexis says many families struggle to pay school fees and purchase supplies for their children, and while some students can afford text books, others make do with photocopies.
To help overcome some of those challenges, the United States has given $24 million to education efforts in Haiti over the past three years. The U.S. Agency for International Development recently presented a check for $8 million for textbooks and other materials.
At a ceremony, Haiti's Education Minister Gabriel Bien-Aime welcomed the U.S. support to help expand the government's role in education. "The money will help schools overcome some of the difficulties we face, as the government tries to provide books, uniforms and other materials to students."
Overall, U.S. aid to Haiti since 2004 has totaled more than $600 million. The Inter-American Development Bank says additional funds come from Haitians living abroad. Last year they sent back more than $1.6 billion.
Remittances help many students pay for their education. Fania Joseph's father lives and works in Florida. The tenth grade student says she is sad that her father lives far away, but the money he makes helps to send her to a better school. "My father was unable to find work here, so he left. That is not the fault of the government, but conditions are very difficult here."
Like many of her classmates, Fania says she would like to finish school and leave the country to find work. But she adds she would like to be able to return some day to help her people seek a better life and improve the country.