'Normalcy' for Haiti's Children Begins in the Classroom

For thousands of Haitian children, the new norm of life is being played out in crowded tent cities or even worse – the streets – with no focused activity and no hope of schools opening any time soon. Even as the beleaguered government of a devastated nation scrambles to make the April 1 goal of reopening schools – the second such goal since the earthquake on Jan. 12 – it's becoming all too clear that making this goal, according to a New York Times article on March 6, is becoming "increasingly remote."

Of course, these children need to get back into the classroom so they can learn the necessary skills needed to become productive citizens in their country, but it isn't only their education that needs to be addressed. Safety is also a major concern as these children living in tent cities are vulnerable to all sorts of crime. In addition, with the rainy season which lasts from March until May and the subsequent hurricane season which runs its course from June to November, the children could be exposed to all sorts of virulent weather.

It's clear that Haiti will need foreign assistance for some time as the reopening of public schools is just one of many issues the nation's government is trying to address. However, even as the work to rebuild Haiti has barely begun, interest is waning. The outpouring of support was tremendous at the beginning, but like so many disasters in the past, interest drops off dramatically when the long and tedious process of rebuilding begins.

Like any large-scale disaster, the immediate response from rescue and relief organizations is crucial in the saving of lives. Recovery of those lost is necessary to determine where to begin rebuilding. Funding from public and private sources is essential in making all of this happen in the first days and weeks of a disaster, but what happens after those who can be saved are rescued and the "first response" teams go back home?

Who will be around to help this nation of tent cities get back on its feet and thrive?

To truly help the people of Haiti in the long-term, relationships need to be made; trust needs to be built. Networks need to be in place, so that when disaster strikes, the response is immediate and effective. With such a system, food and other supplies can get to those who need it the most. Children and their families can be accounted for. The sick and injured can be cared for.

This takes time, though, and time is something Haiti doesn't have lest it sacrifices another generation while these relationships are being made. Fortunately, we don't have to wait for these kinds of relationships to be developed. There are organizations that have already made the investment in Haiti long before the earthquake in January ever struck. One such organization is Compassion International.

Compassion has been in Haiti since 1968, and now, through a partnership with Engineering Ministries International, is determining not only what repairs are needed at school buildings serving its network of church partners but is also looking at how to improve buildings and facilities to withstand future earthquakes.

In the meantime, Compassion is leveraging its strong relationships with its partner churches and church leaders in Haiti to hold school in tents for children affected by the quake. For eight hours per day and six days per week, children gather in the courtyards of these churches and church schools and participate in physical activities such as sports, dancing, and crafts. They also participate in spiritual activities as well as activities designed to address some of their deeper psychological needs. These children are excited and relieved for a chance to play a simple game of dominos with friends and share a hot meal of rice and beans – a sense of normalcy in a world that had been abruptly and violently turned upside down.

Even though these "classrooms" may be nothing more than tents right now, for the children who enter them each day, they are so much more. They are a refuge in a world gone mad. They are a place of peace where kids can be kids and start dreaming about their futures again. They are a place where, even though their old classrooms are still unusable, things feel "normal." There can be no greater sense of security for a young child than that.

Through child sponsorships, Compassion International serves more than 64,000 children in Haiti working to permanently break their cycle of poverty. Compassion International is the world's largest Christian child development organization that permanently releases children from poverty. Founded in 1952, Compassion successfully tackles global poverty one child at a time, serving more than 1 million children-pre-natal through higher education-in 26 of the world's poorest countries. Recognizing that poverty is more than a lack of money, Compassion works through local churches to holistically address the individual physical, economic, educational and spiritual needs of children, enabling them to thrive, not just survive. Compassion has been awarded eight consecutive four-star ratings by Charity Navigator, America's largest charity evaluator.

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