Monday, March 22, 2004

Hti: Back to school

On Monday, uniformed boys with rucksacks and girls wearing pink and red hair ribbons filled the streets as most schools reopened for the first time since the crisis started brewing in December.

The disruption crippled an already moribund education system in a country where more than half the 8 million people are illiterate and only 60 percent have access to schools.

All told, at least 50 schools throughout Haiti were destroyed by pro-Aristide gangs, according to the U.N. Children's Fund. An unknown number of others were gutted by looters who took everything not nailed down — textbooks, wall maps, desks, even blackboards.

In the capital, most schools closed for weeks, and attendance plummeted 80 percent at others where students were too afraid to return, according to UNICEF.

"They have all been witness to violence and murder and don't know what will happen tomorrow," said UNICEF spokeswoman Francoise Gruloos-Ackermans. "But we're confident things will improve."

Another factor keeping down attendance is the schools' shortage of food, causing a lack of incentive for many children in this impoverished nation who receive their only daily meal in the classroom, she said.

As tension starts to ease, U.S. Marines are doing patrols near schools and officials are trying to fill classrooms, using radio messages


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