New school, new hope for Haiti

 

Trenton Daniel of the Miami Herald writes about how outside the crowded capital, along Haiti’s northern coast, business leaders and development experts are trying to revamp one of the Caribbean nation’s most beleaguered institutions: Education.

“What we want to do is make this a new model for education in Haiti,” said John Weiss, associate vice president of private destinations with Royal Caribbean.

The paragon in question — named L’Ecole Nouvelle Royal Caribbean — is a primary school built by the cruise ship company on 260 acres it leases from the government as a stop for its ships in the port town of Labadee. Weiss and other supporters gathered at the site Thursday to celebrate the grand opening, which happened Wednesday.

The state-of-the-art facility seeks to educate at least 230 students between grades kindergarten and fifth who will study English and the environment.

With children coming from nearby towns and villages, the 6,500-square-foot campus consists of six buildings, 12 classrooms, administrative offices, and a computer lab. Vocational training will be available for adults in the evening.

The school cost $425,000 to build, Weiss said.

While thousands of schools exist in Haiti, the quality of teaching is sorely lacking. In Haiti, only about 53 percent of those over the age of 15 can read and write.

With that in mind, Royal Caribbean teamed up with Progress & Development Through the Youth of Haiti, or Prodev, a Port-au-Prince based nonprofit that focuses on youngsters education, to select qualified teachers. Instructors will receive salaries between $350 and $700 a month, depending on skills and experience.

Another perk: The school was built with light yet sturdy materials so that the structure would be waterproof and able to withstand hurricanes and earthquakes.

“The quality of the place is so good it can be a bunker,” said Amarilis Osorio, president and director of InnoVida, a corporation that supplied “fiber composite panels” to build the school in four weeks, in time for the 2010-2011 academic year.

Fifty Haitian workers assembled the school, earning about $22 a day, Weiss said.

The school comes at an opportune time. Ten months after the 7.0-magnitude earthquake flattened Port-au-Prince and nearby cities, schools in Haiti are still struggling.

The destruction of schools was so severe that a post-disaster report said $914 million is needed to relaunch the education system. That is but a fraction of what’s needed to repair a system where parents fork over earnings for private schools that teach little.

In Labadee, Fritznel Charitable was effusive about the school his 4-year-old boy and girl would attend.

“The school, it gives me a great expression of hope,” said Charitable, a market manager. “Everybody here will be able to benefit from this education.”

The report appeared at http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/10/21/1885260/new-school-new-hope-for-haiti.html#ixzz133AdiotR

Photos of Labadee’s old public school from http://www.flickr.com/photos/aemacivor/3430640/

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