Haiti in Context

The Haiti disaster has all but faded from the headlines. We know the grim numbers: the latest estimates are that more than 250,000 people died, 300,000 injured, and more than one million lost their homes. Yet Judith’s story reminds us of the impact that access to education can have in building a brighter future.

Judith’s Story

Judith, age 15, lost her mother to the earthquake in Haiti in January.

“After the earthquake we went to stay in the countryside for five weeks. Those weeks that I was out of school were very lonely for me. My mother was everything I had in the world. I miss her so much. When I was not in school, I would be home thinking about my mother and I felt like my head would explode.”

Thankfully, Judith’s father and siblings survived. However, like many, they lost their home. For Judith, school offered much needed stability. And hope.

“Since I came back to Port au Prince I live with 8 members of my family in a small room. My father and brother sleep on the floor and my sister, cousins and I sleep on the two beds. When it rains, our room is like a swimming pool as the plastic bags don’t prevent the rain from flooding our room.

Since I lost my home, I now have to walk two hours per day to get to school each day, 6km in total. It is tiring but I know that I must continue my studies if I want to be something in life. Sometimes I want to give up but a little voice tells me to say determined, to keep going on and I am going to do this for my mother, for my family. It’s my reason for living. I love school. I feel good here with my friends… “

After a disaster, schools can play a critical role in jump-starting the healing process for children like Judith who have lost homes and loved ones.

“Ms. Lambert organizes an assembly on Fridays where we share our stories and feelings about the earthquake. Here I talk about my mother and my friends share their stories. One of my classmates who is now on crutches described how her grandmother died right beside her, holding her hand. It is difficult, but we must help one another get through this together. There is no other way.” (1)

Judith’s story is sad, but it’s also a story of resilience. The tragedy of the earthquake led to an outpouring of support, and many in Haiti and in the Haitian Diaspora are confident that this can be a turning point in Haiti’s history, giving them the chance to build a better Haiti. In our recently published guide, Haiti: How Can I Help? Models for Donors Seeking Long-Term Impact—which identifies high-impact philanthropic opportunities across three sectors: health, livelihoods, and education—we outline successful, evidence-based models for helping Haiti to move beyond relief and recovery to long-term development. We also provide examples of how these models are successfully being implemented in Haiti with Haitians leading and staffing most of the key activities. These models have the potential to help provide adequate health care, relevant job opportunities, and education for the millions of people, like Judith who are working to move beyond the earthquake to a better life.

(1) Adapted with permission from UNICEF’s Field Blog. Full story can be accessed at: https://fieldnotes.unicefusa.org/2010/05/the_day_my_world_crumbled.html