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Haitian school's reconstruction starts

A Trinidadian bank offers mountain village kids broader horizons

If all goes according to plan, by the time the next academic year begins in September, Furcy will have a brand new public school. The facility, which will replace the old one toppled by the 2010 earthquake, will be built following strict construction standards. And as its principal, Francius Saintilus, remarked at a recent groundbreaking ceremony, the new school will have a big impact in this village in the mountains behind Port-au-Prince.

The old school had only nine classrooms, each one crammed with as many as 50 students at a time. The new ones will be more spacious, and there will be more of them, 14 in total. The school will serve children from preschool to 9th grade. Previously, it only covered elementary, leaving local kids with few options once they finished the 6th grade. As Saintilus noted, children will now have broader horizons as they gain more years of education – and probably get into less trouble.

École Nationale de Furcy will also have a proper sanitary block, a kitchen, a lunch room and offices for teachers and administrators. It will be an example of the new basic requirements for public school buildings set by the Ministry of Education under an ambitious reform launched last year after the earthquake. In a nutshell, the plan seeks to build thousands of schools, train tens of thousands of teachers and provide free, quality education to all Haitian children.

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) is a leading donor to the Haitian plan, having pledged to provide US$250 million over five years from its own resources and to mobilize US$250 million more from other donors. So far it has approved grants totaling US$100 million, which in large part will be used to build or rehabilitate dozens of public schools. About 30 of these facilities should be finished over the next 10 months, according to Josepha Gauthier, general director of Haiti’s FAES social investment fund, which is supervising the construction of schools.

Furcy’s school stands out because most of the money for the new building comes from a private donor, the First Citizens Bank of Trinidad and Tobago. The Caribbean financial institution, which donated US$1 million, was the first to respond to the IDB’s call for contributions. First Citizen’s general manager, Sekou Mark, was present at the ceremony, where a plaque honoring his bank was unveiled.

Others have followed in its path: Colombian musical star Shakira ’s Barefoot Foundation is supporting the reconstruction of Elie Dubois, a historical high school for girls in downtown Port-au-Prince. Through her Happy Hearts Fund, supermodel Petra Nemcova has committed to support the reconstruction of several schools.

Besides providing better learning environments for more Haitian children, the construction of new schools also helps stoke the local economy. In the case of schools financed by IDB grants, all the contractors hired so far by FAES are Haitian construction firms.

Local firms and workers also put up hundreds of temporary classrooms on school grounds across the quake region. Such light but sturdy buildings are still in use in Furcy, but in a few months they will make way for permanent buildings with properly equipped classrooms.

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