The students have access to safe water, proper sanitation and meals at school. © UNICEF Haiti/2010
In the mountain village of Jaquot, north of Port-au-Prince, healthcare and education facilities were until recently non existent. Twelve months after the earthquake that devastated this tiny Caribbean nation, local residents now have both.
Sister Marie Benedicte has seen the changes a school and clinic have made in her community. She is not only the administrator of the local community school but also a medical doctor and runs the only clinic for Jaquot’s 8,000 inhabitants and others living nearby.
“I see 60 to 80 patients everyday who come from Jaquot and from the surrounding villages,” says Sister Benedicte. “Before we set up the clinic in response to the earthquake, most of these patients would have had to go to Port-au-Prince for treatment, if they had the financial means, and if they were lucky enough to arrive in time before their illnesses became fatal.”
And as the administrator of the local school supported by UNICEF, Sister Benedicte, says having a school nearby provides more than just education for local young people.
“The only solace these children have had since the earthquake is that they can go to school to bring some sort of normalcy back into their lives,” she says.
Outside the health clinic a long line forms to see Sister Benedicte. The mission provides medical care with a dispensary supported by UNICEF for children and families living in Jaquot and the surrounding villages free of charge.
“I had to wake up at three this morning to take my child to see the doctor,” says Marie Marthe Aristile, leaving the clinic with her six-year-old daughter, Lourdia. “We have walked for four hours to get here. Lourdia has been having fever every night for over a week and I am very worried about her.”
With her daughter Lourdia’s illness diagnosed as an ear infection, and medication given, Marie Marthe is both relieved and grateful.
“My wish is for us to get help to restart our lives. It’s been a very difficult year for us.”
Before the clinic was set up immediately after the January 21 earthquake, it would take Marie Marthe and mothers like her at least eight hours to walk to the nearest health facility on the outskirts of the capital, Port-au-Prince.
Most of the population living in communities near Jaquot are farmers, and are extremely poor.
“With the support of UNICEF we are able to deal with most of the medical conditions. However, if their condition is deemed very serious, we use our pickup truck and drive the one hour route to take them the general hospital in the capital,” she adds.
UNICEF Chief of Health Dr Jean-Claude Mubalama says that improving access to healthcare, especially in isolated communities such as Jaquot, is a priority for UNICEF in Haiti, particularly in light of the aftermath of the earthquake and the recent cholera outbreak.
“Having a health facility such as this one in rural areas has made it easier for families to access medical care,” Mubalama says. “UNICEF will continue to support and expand health facilities in the rural areas especially those that were affected by the earthquake a year ago.”
At the nearby Communal School also operated by Sister Benedicte and her religious order, the Fraternite Notre Dame Mission, and also supported by UNICEF, 17-year-old Darline remembers the earthquake.
“We lost our home here in Jaquot on the day of the earthquake, but nobody was killed or injured in my family,” she says. “In Port-au-Prince it was horrible, just horrible.”
Her school was destroyed and has been rebuilt. But Darline was affected by the earthquake in less visible ways. “I don’t work as well as I should at school since the earthquake, I can’t concentrate and I’m scared all the time,” she confides.”
Sister Benedicte says the school, which was rebuilt with UNICEF support, is an important means for helping children like Darline overcome the psychological trauma caused by the earthquake.
“Here they can play with their friends and share their feelings even though they saw the original structure of the school collapse on January 12,” she says.
UNICEF is supporting schools like Darline’s to give children living in rural areas affected by the earthquake a head start on their education. As one of the school’s 307 students, Darline hopes to become a nurse when she completes her studies. “We lost our home here in Jaquot in the earthquake, but nobody was killed or injured in my family as everyone was outside working on their plots. “In Port au Prince it was horrible, just horrible.”
All the homes in Jaquot were destroyed by the earthquake, unfortunately being located in a very remote area far from the capital their suffering did not get equal attention in comparison to the destruction in the urban areas.
Darline attends the only communal school run by the Fraternite Notre Dame Mission supported by UNICEF. According to Sister Marie Benedicte, who oversees the running of the school “the only solace these children have had since the earthquake is that they can go to school to have some sort of normalcy back into their lives. Here they can play with their friends, sharing their feelings even though they saw the original structure of the school collapse on 12 January.”
“Many of the children who came back to Jaquot after the earthquake were haunted by what they saw. This is something that will be in their memories for the rest of their lives,” Sister Benedicte says.
One year on, UNICEF is supporting schools like this one to give children in rural areas affected by the earthquake a head start on their education. Immediately after the earthquake there were 270 students. The school today has a total of 307 students from preschool to secondary school students. Darline is one of the 307 pupils, who hopes to study to become a nurse when she completes her schooling.
“Our colleagues are doing a remarkable job, working around the clock to provide assistance in a very difficult operating environment,” said UNICEF Deputy Representative Zaid Jurji and will continue to do so in reaching the most vulnerable.
Written by Cifora Monier
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