Sister Marie-Bernadette is the principal at the Centre Rosalie Javouhey in Port-au-Prince. WFP/Stephanie Tremblay
In Port-au-Prince, a school principal is working tirelessly to help her school and her students recover
On Janurary 12th 2010, when the earthquake hit, Sister Marie-Bernadette could only watch in horror as the school she heads in Port-au-Prince shook. “The building did not collapse, she said, but it was so damaged, just getting close to it was dangerous.”
Without a proper place to teach, classes at the Centre Rosalie Javouhey were cancelled. But one thing the school principal did not expect was this: a few days after the earthquake, children started turning up. They wanted to talk, they were looking for comfort, but many were also looking for a staple of their school day. They were hungry and hoping to find a hot meal.
With the help of the World Food Programme and its partners, Sister Marie-Bernadette managed to restart her school meals programme. “ The word got out and most of my students started coming back, she said. The cooks prepared meals for them everyday”. There were no classes, but it didn’t matter. She made sure the students at this all-girls school would not go hungry.
When classes resumed in April, under tents donated by Unicef, the impact of the earthquake on the young girls became cruelly clear. Many students had lost their house and were now living in tents. Others had lost a parent, a brother or a sister and a few were now orphans. “We did our best to figure out where they were staying, who was taking care of them”, said Marie-Bernadette. Most children were deeply affected by the earthquake. Providing comfort and an attentive ear became a big part of being a teacher.
Psychologists visited the school to provide guidance and comfort to both the teachers and the students. “These were emotional moments, said Marie-Bernadette. It’s still difficult for us to cope with the aftermath of the earthquake, it’s a lot worse for the children.”
In October, a new school year started and the children came back, ready for a fresh start. One thing the school principal has noticed is that again, the girls are hungry to learn, but sometimes, they are just hungry. Making ends meet was never easy for many Haitian families. Now, a year after the quake, it’s a real struggle. Parents and students rely on the meal provided daily at school by the World Food Programme. “It helps the girls study and stay focused in class, said Sister Marie-Bernadette. When they don’t eat, they don’t hear, they don’t see.”
A year after the earthquake, she is optimistic. Things in her school are improving.
During the summer break, crews tore down the damaged building and workers are now putting the final touches to temporary classrooms.
The students seem to be recovering too, said the school principal. “Some of them are still struggling though. When you lose a member of your family, your mother or your father, you just can’t forget. But we do our best to help them”.