Helping communities who are helping Haiti's displaced

News Stories, 14 March 2011

© UNHCR
Pupils spill out of a newly refurbished classroom in Belladere. Haiti. It was one of three schools that were repaired following a donation to UNHCR by Italian tyre company Pirelli.

BELLADERE, Haiti, March 14 (UNHCR) More than a year after the earthquake that devastated much of Haiti, providing access to education for tens of thousands of children uprooted by the destruction remains a challenge.

Helping communities that have welcomed families displaced by the quake was the aim of a UNHCR project to rebuild damaged schools that was made possible thanks to a joint effort of Pirelli Group and its worldwide employees.

In the aftermath of the January 2010 earthquake, an estimated 2 million people were living in makeshift settlements around the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince. A further 600,000 people fled to outlying provinces including along the border with the Dominican Republic.

Some 5,000 of the quake-displaced, mostly women and children, sought shelter and safety in the municipality of Belladere, along Haiti's central border with the Dominican Republic.

Despite the overcrowding caused by their arrival they were taken in by the local community. Residents opened their doors to the new arrivals, often sheltering more than a dozen of the displaced in their homes. The condition of Belladere's schools though made it impossible to absorb all of the new children.

The Italian tyre firm launched an internal fund-raising campaign last year called, "My Time for Haiti." Staff were given the opportunity to donate work hours to Haiti assistance. The amount they would have earned was deducted from their pay and then matched by Pirelli.

The funds were used by UNHCR to repair and equip three schools in the area and provide psychological support to help displaced children integrate into their new schools and community.

"With the 'My Time for Haiti' project and thanks to the effective partnership with UNHCR, Pirelli and its employees once again translated corporate global citizenship into practice. Children's education is one of the most important values to be preserved and fostered during a reconstruction period," said Marco Tronchetti Provera, Pirelli chairman and chief executive officer.

"Following the devastating earthquake in Haiti last year, UNHCR appealed to the international community to help address the massive needs of the displaced," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres. "The management and staff of the Pirelli Group responded to that appeal and their contribution has helped to restore the lives of 4,000 schoolchildren."

Ten-year-old Eveline, whose former school in Port au Prince collapsed in the quake, is happy to be back in class and says she is grateful to have a place with running water where she can wash her hands. After disaster and displacement, Eveline sums up her current state of mind. "I feel secure," she says.

By Rosalie Fournier in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and Lilli Tnaib in Washington, DC, United States