Books are replacing bullets as the primary focus for children in some of Haitiâ€™s worst slums, where, for years, gunmen have ruled the streets allowing no aid workers inside. Scores of thousands of youngsters have finally returned to school thanks to an operation lead by by the United Nations Childrenâ€™s Fund. 271 schools and more than 68,000 children are being provided with basic learning materials (like these backpacks, pictured at right) in CitÃ© Soleil and other violence-affected neighborhoods…
For years, powerful gangs seized control CitÃ© Soleil, the seaside slum in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince that has long been regarded as one of most violent neighbourhoods in the whole Western Hemisphere. They forcibly recruited children and kept away outsiders, including humanitarian workers. Violence and increased poverty forced many schools to shut down, leaving thousands of children without an education.
But following the election of RenÃ© PrÃ©val as the new President in February, a window of opportunity opened up when the gangs declared a unilateral truce, and the area finally became accessible. UNICEF immediately launched a massive vaccination campaign for all of the slumâ€™s children and women, immunizing 20,000 children and 30,000 women against common preventable diseases.
Together with the International Organization of Migration (IOM) and local authorities, UNICEF identified requirements to bring every child back to classrooms. Water and sanitation facilities are being improved in 40 schools, while essential supplies are distributed to all students and their teachers in all 201 schools, about 68,000 children.
There are still children in CitÃ© Soleil and in other parts of Haiti who do not have access to school. An additional $78 million annually would be required to reach the 2015 Millennium Development Goal of having all children in school, keeping many away from being given guns instead.â€