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Haiti: UN Helps Refurbish Schools In Slums

Haiti: UN Helps Refurbish Schools In Slums Where Guns Once Ruled Supreme

New York, Sep 22 2006 1:00PM

Books are replacing bullets in some of Haiti’s worst slums where gunmen once ruled the roost, as scores of thousands of youngsters return to school thanks to a joint operation by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and its partners.

For years, powerful gangs seized control Cité Soleil, the seaside slum in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince that has long been regarded as one of most violent neighbourhoods in the whole Western Hemisphere. They forcibly recruited children and kept away outsiders, including humanitarian workers. Violence and increased poverty forced many schools to shut down, leaving thousands of children without an education.

But following the election of René Préval as the new President in February, a window of opportunity opened up when the gangs declared a unilateral truce, and the area finally became accessible. UNICEF immediately launched a massive vaccination campaign for all of the slum’s children and women, immunizing 20,000 children and 30,000 women against common preventable diseases.

Together with the International Organization of Migration (IOM) and local authorities, UNICEF identified requirements to bring every child back to classrooms. Water and sanitation facilities are being improved in 40 schools, while essential supplies are distributed to all students and their teachers in all 201 schools.

Now, 271 schools and more than 68,000 children are being provided with basic learning materials in Cité Soleil and other violence-affected neighbourhoods.

“There are still a lot of children in Cité Soleil and in other parts of Haiti who do not have access to school,” UNICEF representative Adriano Gonzalez-Regueral said. “We need to join efforts and to mobilize enough funds to reach those children in order to keep them away from being given guns instead.”

Together with the World Bank, UNICEF is also supporting the School-Fee Abolition Initiative, part of the National Strategy for Education for All. The average Haitian family spends a higher proportion of its income on education than any other country in the world. Only 54 per cent of Haitian children attend school.

An additional $78 million will be required annually to reach the 2015 Millennium Development Goal of having all children in school, a small price to pay to set the country on a path to peace and development, UNICEF says.

Ends

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