School Days Lift Spirits In Quake-Ravaged Haiti At least some parts of life are returning to something like normalcy four months after the disaster. The streets of Port-au-Prince are filled with children in school uniforms. A $6 million emergency construction program is creating about 50 temporary structures where classes can be held.

School Days Lift Spirits In Quake-Ravaged Haiti

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In Haiti, four months after the earthquake, there are more signs of life returning to normal. Each morning, the streets are again filled with children wearing school uniforms. Reopening the classrooms was a huge challenge. Many schools were destroyed; others were quickly occupied by people who had lost their homes and had nowhere else to live.

NPR's Jason Beaubien reports from Port-au-Prince that the government has been constructing simple wood-frame classrooms until more permanent schools can be built.

JASON BEAUBIEN: A group of fourth-grade boys are racing each other across the cement basketball court at Saint-Jean L'Evangeliste school in the Turgeau section of Port-au-Prince. One boy does cartwheels. They yell. They laugh. They shove each other.

Four months ago, their school collapsed in ruins on this same site. Almost all the debris from the previous building is gone. There are still some shattered cinder blocks that have been tossed to the edge of the lot. Now, classrooms of plywood walls and corrugated metal roofs stretch to the back of the property.

Reverend NELSON AUGUSTIN (Principal, Saint-Jean L'Evangeliste): (Foreign language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: The principal of the school, Father Nelson Augustin, says they used to have 29 classrooms, a library with 5,000 books, an auditorium, a computer lab. Now, all they have are the simple classrooms with rows of desks facing a single blackboard. But he says the reopening of his school in mid-April has been a huge blessing.

Rev. AUGUSTIN: (Foreign language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: They're kids, Father Augustin says, so they have a big capacity to jump quickly from happiness to sadness. We have a lot of kids themselves who were victims: kids who were under the rubble or their parents were under the rubble, even kids who lost their parents.

Father Augustin says the biggest problem facing the school right now is that families can't afford the roughly $50 a month in tuition. Parents have lost their homes, their jobs, oftentimes all their savings. He says the school cut the tuition by 25 percent but still, many people are struggling to pay.

The Inter-American Development Bank has given $6 million to build 50 schools like this one. Some are finished; others are still under construction. Most will be in Port-au-Prince. When finished, the temporary schools will provide classrooms for 65,000 kids.

Father Leingkone Arnaud, at Saint-Jean L'Evengeliste, says the lightweight walls are actually reassuring to many students who are still traumatized from the earthquake.

Reverend LEINGKONE ARNAUD (Saint-Jean L'Evengeliste): (Through translator) Definitely, the children feel much safer, including the staff as well, that's operating it. They feel safer that the concrete walls are not going to collapse on them.

BEAUBIEN: Eventually, the school will be rebuilt with solid walls, but even the principal has no idea how long it will take to find the money and resources to do that.

The school operates in two shifts, with primary school in the morning and the secondary or high school in the afternoon. At 1 p.m., parents stream onto the grounds to pick up their young children. Abigail Toussant has come to collect her 6-year-old, Uri.

Ms. ABIGAIL TOUSSANT: (Foreign language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: Toussant says she's happy to have her son back in school. They live in a tent with 22 other people. She says for weeks on end, Uri was bored and starting to misbehave. He was always asking her why they couldn't rent a real home. She had to keep explaining that houses across Port-au-Prince were destroyed, and there aren't even any left to rent.

Toussant adds that one of the hardest things right now is that there's no privacy in the tent. If you want privacy, she says, you close your eyes and go to sleep.

Ms. TOUSSANT: (Foreign language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: She says that except for not having a home, things are returning to normal. And especially for her son Uri, the reopening of school is a big part of making their daily lives feel like they're getting back on track.

Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Port-au-Prince.

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