Schoolchildren enjoy recess at Ecole Marie Dominique Mazzarello in Port-au-Prince on June 18. The students returned to temporary classrooms built as part of the USAID-funded PHARE program. Photo by Kendra Helmer/USAID

The school bell rings, triggering a flood of happy faces running out of class.  Girls and boys from ages 4 to 19 walk with their friends, giggling and chatting. They form groups and begin playing jump rope and other games. Nearly 1,500 students attend school at Ecole Marie Dominique Mazzarello in the Delmas 95 neighborhood in Port-au-Prince.  On January 12, the school was destroyed.

“I heard a noise and at first, I thought one of the students had a bad accident in the laboratory,” said Sister Aline Nicolas, a teacher at the school.  “We looked out and saw the buildings were crumbling.”

With more than 4,000 schools damaged in the earthquake, quick action was needed to return kids to school.  USAID’s PHARE (Programme Haïtien d’Appui à la Réforme de l’Education) program responded by constructing more than 300 classrooms for 76 schools.  PHARE also distributed more than 120 U.S. Army-donated tents, providing an additional 104 classrooms in 49 schools.

When the earthquake struck, most students had already left for the day. Away from the school, six students died, and several were injured. Seventeen-year-old Nathalie was studying on her rooftop when the adjacent building started to crumble and she was injured by falling slabs of cement. 

She lost part of her right arm and broke her leg and spent three months in the hospital. But when Ecole Marie Dominique Mazzarello reopened on May 10, Nathalie was there. Her classmates help carry her books as she makes her way using a brace to the new classrooms.

“We are very happy to have our school,” Nathalie said. “I was very eager to come back. We were chanting, ‘Vive Ecole Marie Dominique Mazzarello!’”

 In addition to clearing rubble of damaged schools and building classrooms, PHARE supplies teaching and learning kits, reaching about 32,100 students and 642 teachers. According to the Haiti Ministry of Education, 75 percent of students have returned to school. 

 For photos of the school, visit USAID Haiti’s Flickr page.