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Back to stories from the field Bringing water and sanitation to Haiti’s schools

Bringing water and sanitation to Haiti’s schools

Over one million people were displaced by the 2010 Haiti earthquake, many of them forced to live in camps with limited access to clean water and sanitation. A staggering 5,000 schools were damaged or destroyed by the disaster – but even before that, sanitation in schools was often very poor, putting children at risk of waterborne diseases. More than 60% of schools across the country (both public and private) had no access to water, hygiene or sanitation, creating a difficult learning environment for children. After the quake, a devastating cholera outbreak made proper sanitation more important than ever. Hundreds of thousands of people have been sick with cholera since the outbreak began in October 2010, and more than 7,000 have been killed.

With the support of Dubai Cares, UNICEF has provided WASH services in displacement camps in the aftermath of the disaster. From 2010 and 2011, UNICEF responded with WASH improvements to 220 schools, including new latrines and hand washing stands. The WASH program has also provided schools with chlorine tabs, posters about cholera prevention and soap.

Ms. Andrelita Beauvoir, headmistress of Institution Mixte de Beauvoir in Port-au-Prince explained that before the earthquake, the school was in a different building that lacked proper facilities. Children used latrines but due to lack of water, they were constantly dirty, posing a health risk for the students. To find water, they had to dig a well, install a pump and then carry water to the facilities. "It was really complicated,” explained Ms. Beauvoir, “now there are enough toilets for all the school children and the air is breathable. Now children can go safely without worrying about soiling their clothes”. The change is not just limited to bricks and mortar. Now that good knowledge can actually be practiced, Ms. Beauvoir has instituted new hygiene promotion activities. "We're doing permanent outreach work with the students on hygiene. That way they also become health officers, passing on the information they learn here to their families at home and in communities in which they live. These practices should now become part of their habits," she explained.

Every year, millions of school age children fall prey to diseases linked to poor water and sanitation which leave them weakened and unable to attend school on a regular basis or participate to their full potential. The tragedy of the situation is that this could be easily prevented by enforcing sound hygiene and sanitation practices. Through Dubai Cares’ WASH programs in Haiti, the organization is tackling the issue by changing student attitudes towards hygiene and showcasing how an act as simple as washing hands with soap, will ensure better productivity at school.

These positive results of the WASH program, achieved in the context of a life threatening cholera outbreak, and combined with higher level advocacy, inspired the Government of Haiti to declare WASH in Schools one of its key priorities – and to establish a National Alliance for WASH in Schools. Launched on March 20, 2012 with the Ministry of Education, this national alliance unites a variety of actors that see children as key “agents of change” in their communities and nation.

Developmental Challenges in Haiti

Haiti was already an impoverished and politically unstable country when a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck on January 12, 2010, reducing much of the Caribbean country to rubble and killing tens of thousands. Today, the country is still suffering from the aftermath of the earthquake which has caused poverty and widespread diseases such as cholera.

Dubai Cares Programs in Haiti

Dubai Cares helped improve the wellbeing of children through the integration of water and sanitation facilities and hygiene activities in primary schools. As part of the program, Dubai Cares supported the sustainable integration of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) in primary schools by reinforcing the child as the ‘Agent of Change’ and the school as a ‘centre of excellence’ for sanitation and hygiene in the community.

Dubai Cares, in close collaboration with UNICEF, worked primarily on schools which are a priority according to the Ministry of Education. A comprehensive list of 220 schools was developed and agreed upon with the Ministry of Education. Through this program, Dubai Cares reached 132,000 children and 6,600 teachers and at least a further 20,000 future school children benefiting from the installation of child-friendly water, sanitation and hand-washing facilities.

Providing Access to Quality Primary Education

Dubai Cares’ efforts in Haiti reflect the theme of its current “What if …” Ramadan campaign for 2014, which will run throughout the Holy Month of Ramadan to spread awareness about the importance of education, as one of the most effective tools to break the cycle of poverty. Through this campaign, Dubai Cares asks the UAE community to imagine their own children facing the same hurdles that children in developing countries do. What if your son’s classroom consisted of a half-standing room that exposed him to scorching heat and poisonous snakes and scorpions? The campaign also aims to raise funds for improving children’s access to quality primary education in developing countries.