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Helping Haiti’s people access education and other services

This Sunday, Haitians will once again turn out to vote for a new leader in the run-off between the two remaining presidential candidates – former first lady, Mirlande Manigat and popular singer Michel Martelly.

In personality and age the two candidates are very different. Mirlande Manigat is a 70 year-old grandmother with a French education at the Sorbonne and a background in constitutional law. Michel Martelly – called ‘Sweet Mickey’ by Haitians - is popular among the young because of his background in entertainment. But though the two would-be leaders have very different images, both express similar visions for the future of Haiti.

Both presidential candidates believe that Haiti must wean itself off its long dependency on foreign aid. Modernization of agriculture and the formalisation of up-to-date land records are advocated by the two candidates to help in this process, as is decentralization, so that funds can be more evenly spread across the country. Both candidates also express the need for foreign investment to help rebuild and revive the economy. Mr Martelly believes investment could come by fostering tourism. Ms Manigat has put education as her first priority to improve Haiti’s economic chances.

Many charities and agencies working in the country (including SOS Children) believe education is the key to providing better opportunities for Haitians. Yesterday, the United Nations Agency for Refugees (UNHCR) released information about the success of one of its education projects in the Belladere municipality, along the border with the Dominican Republic. Around 5,000 victims of the earthquake, mainly women and children, sought refuge here and were taken in by local residents. However, the schools in Belladere were unable to absorb the huge influx of new children. With sponsorship from an Italian company, UNHCR was able to repair and equip three schools in the area, restoring the lives of around 4,000 schoolchildren. Psychological support for the displaced children was also provided to help them settle into their new community. One child who benefitted is ten-year old Eveline, whose former school in Port-au-Prince was destroyed by the earthquake. Happy to be back in a classroom and pleased to be in a school with running water, Eveline sums up her new life – “I feel secure”, she says.

As well as offering security for children by providing classrooms, UNHCR is also running a project to ensure children qualify for services such as education. Without identity papers, many women cannot enrol their children in school or access other services they need. As one of 43 quick-impact projects, UNHCR has been assisting 1,500 people, mainly women, to register for identity cards and birth certificates for any children, particularly new babies born in the camps. UNHCR plans to expand the registration project in 2011 with the help of other local and UN organisations. The importance of this proof of citizenship is reflected in the phrase sometimes used for the process - the “right to have rights”.

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