When the Ministry of Education building collapsed in last year’s earthquake, people scrambled to pull colleagues from the rubble.
Employees quickly returned to work in donated shelters, with little time to mourn the loss of their friends, family and colleagues. Among those killed around Haiti were 38,000 students, 1,347 teachers and 180 education personnel. More than 4,200 schools were destroyed.
The Ministry of Education (MOE) faced a monumental challenge in getting the education system back online. Its gradual progress has been impeded by the loss of office equipment.
Last week, employees, who have shared the few working computers, happily welcomed new supplies provided by USAID project PHARE (Programme Haitien d’Appui à la Réforme de l’Education). The donation included 60 laptops, 20 desktop computers, 80 desks and chairs, and 20 printers.
“This will help us accelerate our work,” said Pierre-Michele Laguerre, MOE director general.
Laguerre described the scene when the three-story building crumbled Jan. 12, killing 11 employees.
“We heard a lot of crying and screaming,” he said. “We spent many days trying to save those under the rubble.”
Those trapped included Jacqueline Jasmin and Marie Lourdes Borno.
A mass of concrete collapsed on Jasmin, whose son leapt from an opening on the first floor as the building pancaked.
“I heard my son crying, ‘My mother is dead!’” she recalled. “I yelled out, ‘I am alive!’”
Jasmin’s son frantically ran for help as colleagues worked by hand to rescue her. Ten hours later, they pulled her out.
When the earthquake struck, Borno had just walked away from Jasmin. Borno lost consciousness and said that upon waking, “I found myself with my arms on me, but they were crushed. I tried to be brave, and prayed to God to have given me life even without arms.”
Her colleagues freed her within 10 minutes, but her arms had to be amputated at the elbow. Jasmin had a metal rod inserted in her broken right arm, which, along with her head, bears multiple scars.
The two share a strong bond, along with a nickname for each other.
“Whenever I see Madame Borno, I hug her and say, “My rubble companion!’” Jasmin said.
As they and others recovered, the Ministry of Education put together working commissions to respond to the devastation. MOE employees worked out of an undamaged annex and, later on, multiple container offices and a tent.
USAID, in conjunction with the MOE, trained teachers in how to handle back-to-school activities, including psychosocial strategies. USAID cleared 450,000 cubic meters of rubble from 214 school sites, provided more than 420 classrooms and distributed 144,900 textbooks to enable children to return to school.
Laguerre said the MOE appreciates the international community’s support.
“We are grateful to the U.S. government and the American people,” he said. “And we are waiting with open arms whatever can benefit the Haitian child.”
For photos of the donated materials arriving at the MOE, please visit USAID’s Flickr page.