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Education, child safety under threat in Haiti

Youth take cover after hearing gunshots at a public school that serves as a shelter for people displaced by gang violence, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti   -  
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AP Photo


With repeated school closures and mass flight, children in Haiti have been left in suffering under the shadow of the ongoing violence in the Caribbean country.

The national capital Port-au-Prince remains engulfed in violence and a political power vacuum, with gangs having a stranglehold on roads and ports in the city and tens of thousands fleeing.

According to data from the United Nations, half of the estimated 360,000 displaced people are children. Educators in Port-au-Prince stress that the situation is taking a significant toll on the young ones' development.

"Whenever there is a protest, all schools are closed. So, for example, for this year, the kids have not been in school for three months. They started in January for two weeks and for the whole month of February there was no school because of protests," said Angie Bell, executive administrator of Bell Angelou School.

Even through the turbulence, however, determined youth in the country persist in pursuing an education. For 19-year-old Keslay Antoine, his ambition to become a tech entrepreneur keeps him studying through it all.

"The business that I want to open would be to create job opportunities for Haitian people and, yes, I want to travel to other countries so I can come back and really contribute to the development of my country with a business that would satisfy Haiti's needs," said the student.

Others have put their plans on hold. Unable to finish school due to a lack of funds, 20-year-old Iden Joseph sells homemade lunches in the market but still harbors greater ambitions.

"If I get the opportunity I can leave, and I can come back here to my country because I like my country. But you see my country is poor, but I [would like to see them] have much opportunity," he said.

Meanwhile, maternity centers in the country have continued offering much-needed services. Haiti has the highest level of infant mortality in the Western hemisphere, so non-governmental organizations like Second Mil, which works with the Haitian Health Ministry, are vital in ensuring that newborns can get a good start in life.

"If we can help pregnant women while they are pregnant, get good prenatal care, give birth in a safe place where their lives are spared and also their newborns have a strong start to life with things like vaccinations and breastfeeding support and nutritional support and education, then we're really giving those kids and their families a better chance of survival," said Amy Syres, program director of Second Mile Haiti.

Since the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July 2021, gangs and criminal groups have filled the power vacuum that was left. Haiti was scheduled to hold elections before February 7 this year but those elections failed to materialize, leading to social unrest.

Since the end of February, armed gangs have attacked public institutions including the capital's police stations, police academies, and the international airport, demanding Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry step down.

Henry announced on March 12 that he would resign once a transitional presidential council is created, according to local media.

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