Friday, 4 March 2011

Old school/New school

The SOS Herman Gmeiner School in Santo is barely recognisable: instead of classrooms consisting of tents on a dirt floor, brand new hangars now provide ample space for eight classrooms in addition to the existing school building. This significant change for the better was made possible by donations from the German Red Cross and the German embassy.

A fresh start in a brand-new classroom - a first for many of the students. Photo: Sophie Preisch
This past Monday was a big day for many students who attend the SOS Hermann Gmeiner School in Santo: It was their first proper day of school. Not that they didn't have lessons before, it's just that now those lessons are being held in brand new classrooms. On Friday 18 February a new building was inaugurated right next to the existing school, and the tent classrooms could finally be taken down.

The hangars make up eight additional classrooms where 355 students will receive lessons. The building is positioned behind the existing school, which fortunately did not suffer any damage from the earthquake and is still fully operational.

The original school building was not damaged by the earthquake, but the increased number of students made additional space necessary. - Photo: Sophie Preisch 
 Most schools in Haiti are private and often cost more than an average family is able to afford. Especially after the earthquake, when many people lost their homes, the need for free education grew. More than 300 additional children were matriculated in the SOS Hermann Gmeiner School in Santo in order to provide a free education to those who need it. This dramatic increase in the number of pupils of course caused a lack of space where classes could be held. From April 2010, when classes started again after the earthquake, lessons were taught in two shifts, i.e. morning- and afternoon classes and some of them were held in tents.

In Haiti, education is often more costly than average families can afford - free education is practically unheard of. - Photo: Sophie Preisch
 The ground was dusty and classrooms were difficult to keep in order, which made life hard both for childrend and teachers. Now, the space in front of the old school building is cemented and the bright blue hangars at the back side provide a proper space for the classrooms.

The tent classrooms were a good interim solution - but they were dirty, stuffy and hard to keep calm in. - Photo: Sophie Preisch

"The inauguration of this new building is the first step towards a more individual and child-oriented education with fewer students per class", says Max Lamesch, Public Funding Coordinator of SOS Children‘s Villages in Haiti. He also coordinated a cooperation with the German embassy in Haiti, who donated the cost of purchasing individual desk-chairs.

The first few days after the inauguration show a clear difference in the quality of classes. "The classrooms are cooler and the air circulates much better than it did in the tents. Furthermore, the children have more individual space with the new chairs", says a fifth grade teacher.

Donations from the German Red Cross and the German embassy made these improvements possible. - Photo: Sophie Preisch

It is this difference that made the opening of the hangars on Friday such a joyful event. After the inauguration by a priest, the ribbon was cut and the event went on in the community hall of the children's village. SOS Children's Villages also awarded certificates to organizations who had offered their valuable support in order to provide better conditions to SOS students.