Haiti: “When the Bell Rings, It’s Like a Traffic Jam”
“When the bell rings, it’s like a traffic jam.” This is how Joseph Jean Silence describes the daily rush to the school cafeteria.
Joseph Jean Silence is the principal at Institution Mixte Jeunesse Réunie, a school located in La Saline, a section of the slum of Cite Soleil.
The school’s two stories empty quickly. The children line up under a tarpaulin, in front of several big pots filled with rice and bean sauce, a staple of Haitian cooking.
“There are a lot of social and economic problems,” Joseph Jean Silence says of his neighbourhood. “Parents live a day-to-day existence.” He describes precarious living conditions where food will reach the table only if parents have managed to earn or borrow something that day.
“I come to school because I know I will have something to eat,” says Pascal Papou, a five-year old with a spark in his eyes and a big smile. He lives close to the school with his family and if he says that he eats good meals at home too, he concedes that “it doesn’t happen every day.”
The team of cooks arrives at the school early every morning to ensure that the meal cooked with food provided by the World Food Programme is ready to be served at 10:30 am. Why so early? The principal figured that if his students don’t eat breakfast at home, they won’t have to wait until noon to get food in their stomachs.
Jackendy François likes mathematics and says he wants to become a doctor.“At home, if money runs out, meals are affected,” he said. His mother works as a street merchant. “I sometimes bring a part of my school meal back home to share with my little sister,” he explains.
In Haiti, the World Food Programme provides meals daily to 685,000 children in the country’s schools. The meals help children learn better and encourages them to come to school everyday. In La Saline, like in many other places in Haiti, the school meals programme also provides the guarantee that children get at least a meal a day.