Quake-Ravaged Haiti Struggles To Revive Schools

Children play at a school that has been converted into a shelter for quake victims i i

Children play inside the Ecle College Mixtede La Foi, a school that has been converted into a shelter for earthquake refugees in Montrouis, Haiti, about 50 miles northwest of Port-au-Prince. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Children play at a school that has been converted into a shelter for quake victims

Children play inside the Ecle College Mixtede La Foi, a school that has been converted into a shelter for earthquake refugees in Montrouis, Haiti, about 50 miles northwest of Port-au-Prince.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Authorities in Haiti say they want schools back in session by the end of March.

But the goal may be out of reach: Only about 20 percent of the nation's schools escaped the earthquake, and some campuses have been turned into makeshift camps for the homeless.

On a recent day in Delmas, a town just outside the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, 16-year-old Marco Angelo Bel plays soccer with classmates on the campus of the Saint-Louis de Gonzague Catholic school.

Marco Angelo Bel, 16, and his mother Marlene Delinois i i

Marco Angelo Bel, a 16-year-old student at Saint-Louis de Gonzague Catholic school in Delmas, Haiti, and his mother, Marlene Delinois, are living in a tent of the school grounds after the quake destroyed their home. Debbie Elliott/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Debbie Elliott/NPR
Marco Angelo Bel, 16, and his mother Marlene Delinois

Marco Angelo Bel, a 16-year-old student at Saint-Louis de Gonzague Catholic school in Delmas, Haiti, and his mother, Marlene Delinois, are living in a tent of the school grounds after the quake destroyed their home.

Debbie Elliott/NPR

But the game isn't part of a physical education class or recess. Since the Jan. 12 earthquake, these boys have been living on the school grounds, in tents with their families.

Bel wants to get back to class, but he is also worried because officials have told the thousands of families camped at the school that they must leave this week.

Bel says the quake destroyed his home, and that his old neighborhood is unlivable.

There are two collapsed schools nearby. It's smelly, he says, and they haven't cleared the rubble.

His mother, Marlene Delinois, prepares dinner on a charcoal stove. She says they will obey the government's instructions.

"I'm leaving," she says.

To where?

"Where God send me," she replies.

The U.N. estimates 2.5 million Haitian children do not have access to schools and that the earthquake damaged or destroyed 5,000 schools. Local governments are trying to assess the extent of the damage to their education system.

On Friday, city officials in Delmas set up a table outside the municipal palace to take stock of the local schools. Principals lined up to complete paperwork describing the condition of their buildings and staff — and listing how many students they teach.

Frank John Baptiste, vice principal of Institution Mixte Enroll Lesperance, came looking for answers.

Daphnee Josaphat and her uncle, Mercier Jeudiur i i

Daphnee Josaphat lives with her uncle, Mercier Jeudiur, in a tent at the Saint-Louis de Gonzague campus. The earthquake destroyed her salon; now she does hair and nails out of her tent. Debbie Elliott/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Debbie Elliott/NPR
Daphnee Josaphat and her uncle, Mercier Jeudiur

Daphnee Josaphat lives with her uncle, Mercier Jeudiur, in a tent at the Saint-Louis de Gonzague campus. The earthquake destroyed her salon; now she does hair and nails out of her tent.

Debbie Elliott/NPR

"Day after day, many parents come to [find out], what are we going to do?" Baptiste says.

And what does he tell them?

"I say I don't know," he replies.

The city of Delmas is waiting on the central government, says administrator Emmanuel Menard.

"The government is very slow," Menard says.

The quake destroyed the Education Ministry, which is not back up and running.

For now, Menard says the city will try to consolidate schools into whatever buildings are still usable, such as the sprawling campus at Saint-Louis de Gonzague, now packed with thousands of Haiti's homeless.

"We are going to evacuate people to localize them on another site. Instead of [sheltering] victims, we are going to shelter schools instead," Menard says.

Daphnee Josaphat is living at Saint-Louis.

"How can you come with strong arms and bulldozers to move us out? It will not make us happy," she says.

Josaphat and her uncle live in a two-room tent donated by a humanitarian group. She has put rugs on the floor, and keeps salvaged supplies from her destroyed beauty salon stacked neatly in a corner.

Elizabeth Louis used flour and garbage bags to fashion a shelter for her family i i

Elizabeth Louis used linens from flour bags and plastic garbage bags to fashion a shelter for herself and her five children. Inside, concrete blocks keep a bed of cardboard off the mud when it rains. Debbie Elliott/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Debbie Elliott/NPR
Elizabeth Louis used flour and garbage bags to fashion a shelter for her family

Elizabeth Louis used linens from flour bags and plastic garbage bags to fashion a shelter for herself and her five children. Inside, concrete blocks keep a bed of cardboard off the mud when it rains.

Debbie Elliott/NPR

She is proud of her tent. "I like it, it looks like a house, we live well in it," she says.

Josaphat understands that the school needs its property back but says there is a growing sense of frustration that the government doesn't have a plan for the millions like her left homeless.

"The government must take responsibility. Earthquakes happen all over the world, but they never cause this much destruction. Why haven't they done anything for us since Jan. 12? Why haven't they done anything for us?" she says.

On the other side of the camp, Elizabeth Louis doesn't have a tent. The mother of five has fashioned a shelter from tree limbs, linens and plastic bags. A lace-trimmed floral sheet functions as the door. Inside, her bed is cardboard stacked atop concrete blocks to keep her from the mud when it rains.

Louis says if she had a tent, she could search for a better place. She's scared, she says, because she's taking a lot of kids with her and she doesn't know where she's going.

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