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Thousands Of Haitian Children Can't Return To School After Last Month's Earthquake

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Children in Haiti will not return to school on Monday. The country is still reeling from last month's powerful earthquake. Two thousand people died in that disaster, and thousands of buildings, including schools, were damaged or destroyed. As NPR's Carrie Kahn reports, rebuilding could take months, even years.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Pastor Calixte Dorval walks through the large courtyard of his Baptist evangelical church and school in the small mountain community of Marceline. Some buildings still have walls standing, but further back in the compound, the devastation is overwhelming. Pieces of wooden desks, broken chairs and even stuffed animals are piled high where the kindergarten stood.

CALIXTE DORVAL: (Speaking Creole).

KAHN: Dorval points to the huge tin roof lying on the ground. When the quake struck last month, the elementary school walls buckled, sending the large roof crashing to the ground. Luckily, school is out for the summer. More than 400 students come here daily.

DORVAL: (Speaking Creole).

KAHN: "We need nails, plywood and new roofs," he said. But he adds he has no money to pay for those things.

Hundreds of schools in Haiti's southern peninsula, the August 14 quake's epicenter, were either destroyed or damaged. Acknowledging the huge cleanup and reconstruction ahead, Haiti's interim prime minister, Ariel Henry, announced yesterday he was postponing the start of the school year. Elementary school teacher Glasise Louis was hoping school would be postponed.

GLASISE LOUIS: (Speaking Creole).

KAHN: "My students are traumatized," she says. "Any sudden sounds of shaking sends them into a panic."

Her school in downtown Les Cayes was leveled. She says her kids are alive, but she worries about them.

LOUIS: (Speaking Creole).

KAHN: "You see the children on the streets, and they're not in school," she says, "and you know they are a danger to themself and to everyone."

Haiti's federal government was struggling to provide proper education even before this latest natural disaster. COVID and the increasing gang violence has made getting to school tough in many parts of the country. On top of all that is Haiti's political crisis, made worse by this summer's assassination of the president. Former Education Minister Nesmy Manigat says opening schools in a country embroiled in one crisis after another is tough.

NESMY MANIGAT: We have to open the schools. But practically, in term of social justice and inequality, if you open the school, very privileged rich people will be able to go to school.

KAHN: But Haiti's poor, who earn less than $2 a day, struggle to send their kids to school. At least 80% of Haiti's education system is private. For the thousands of Haitians left homeless by the quake, they now have an impossible choice - pay for school or rebuild their houses.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Non-English language spoken).

KAHN: At the Protestant Church of God near downtown Les Cayes, parishioners fill the sanctuary despite the large cracks in its walls. Pastor Bellevue LeMarc says he's expecting even more kids to come to his school. He already educates and feeds at least 400 a day.

BELLEVUE LEMARC: (Speaking Creole).

KAHN: "Our school is still standing," he says, "and we have a good reputation."

He says registration is already up. He isn't expecting the government to step in. His hope is with donations from churches abroad.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Les Cayes, Haiti.

(SOUNDBITE OF NICK BOX'S "SONO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.