Since the rise of the Covid-19 pandemic, kids all around the world have been forced to stay home from school. This has made life tough for students everywhere, but it has been especially challenging in developing countries like Haiti. Young people in Haiti generally do not have access to computers, the internet, or even consistent electricity and running water. So, not only are they disconnected from school, but they also have very few resources to continue their learning at home. To make matters worse, since the vast majority of schools are private, many students are unsure if they’ll have the money to go back to school once things open up in the next month.
According to a 2019 study, Haiti’s capital city of Port-Au-Prince has the 4th lowest quality of living of any major city in the world. The CIA World Factbook states that 66% of Haiti’s urban population lives with “unimproved” sanitation, and 35% live with “unimproved” drinking water. Haiti’s unemployment rate is listed as the 4th highest in the world, and the World Factbook estimates that a staggering 38% of Haitians over 15 years old cannot read or write. It’s evident from the data—and our personal experience on the ground—that Haiti is one of the roughest places in the world to grow up.
Most young Haitians are born without many of the opportunities that other children around the world take for granted.
Yet in the midst of this suffering, there is hope. 52% of Haitians are under the age of 24, and we just happen to know a handful of them through Thrive Ansanm.
These students are intelligent, energetic, creative, and hard-working. Given the right training and support, their potential is almost limitless. The question is, How will these young Haitians reach their potential in the face of so many obstacles?
Erson, both a Thrive Ansanm student and mentor, is currently on the waiting list for a scholarship to complete his third year at the University of Port-au-Prince. He, like nearly every student in Haiti, lost an entire year of school last year due to political instability in the Fall and COVID-19 this spring, and in the past, he has also missed months and years of school for financial reasons. It would be easy to get discouraged and give up, but instead, he chooses to focus on his goals.
“The way I see it, going to university will help me to create something,” he says. “For instance, if I have a business I want to start, the training that I’m receiving will help me.” Erson is well aware of the fact that the Haitian economy is a mess and that there are limited jobs, but he refuses to allow himself to become a victim of his circumstances. “I believe it is better to invest in my own business rather than going to find a job somewhere,” he says. Erson points out that he has friends who have left school to join violent gangs because they see that as a quick way to make money, but he prefers to focus on what he can do to actually contribute to society.
Vanessa is also waiting for a Thrive Ansanm scholarship so she can complete her third year studying to become a nurse. She says that from the time she was a child she was always the one that took care of sick people in her family, so becoming a nurse just made sense. It’s evident that Vanessa enjoys her studies, and she sees this path as a personal calling.
We asked her if the current pandemic made her afraid to become a nurse, and she just laughed and said, “No,” with a stubborn tone that seemed to say she knew the risks when she signed up for this profession. But Vanessa is also practical. She explains that she finds hope in spite of the unwanted delays with her education because no matter how things are, in the medical profession you will always have work because, she says, “you will never not have hospitals.”
So, while many of us are understandably frustrated because we’ve spent a chunk of the last few months stuck at home and many of our plans, including those of school children across the U.S., have been canceled or altered, let us remember our brothers and sisters in Haiti.
For these young people, COVID-19 is just another in a long line of obstacles that seem to be screaming at them that they’ll never get anywhere in life.
Sadly, there is no magic solution to the highly complicated issues that have made Haiti one of the poorest countries in the world, but we are convinced that positive, lasting change in Haiti must come from within. Those of us on the outside will not ultimately be the ones to change Haiti, but we can help bright, ambitious young Haitians such as Erson and Vanessa to get the education and resources they need to rise up and create change in their own country for the better.