The school year is getting underway today in Haiti.   While educators in Chicago and the rest of the U.S. have been grappling with how to manage Covid safety, schools on the impoverished island nation have challenges that far out shadow even the pandemic.

Divisive and harsh images of U.S. Border Patrol agents trying to corral Haitian immigrants at the Mexican border are in the news.

But it’s what’s behind these images that are driving the difficult reality, most devastatingly, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake in southwestern Haiti.

The earthquake hit in August, killing more than 2,000 people and leaving hundreds of structures in ruin. It followed another earthquake in 2010. In between, deadly gang warfare, extreme poverty and political instability that led to the assassination of Haiti’s president. 

Laurent Duvillier is a UNICEF coordinator who’s helped oversee the humanitarian effort in Haiti. The challenges have taken an immense toll on Haiti’s most vulnerable; its children, an estimated 260,000. 

“Always, always the children are paying. The biggest burden is for them,” she said. “They’re deprived of water, education and they’re trapped in a cycle of poverty, exclusion, and eventually, migration and violence.” 

The earthquake has deprived many of the most basic necessities of life:  water.

“Water can help prevent diseases; it is the passport to health,” Duvillier said.

How you can help: Log on to UNICEF’s Haiti Site.

As the slow process of reestablishing permanent clean water systems, it must be trucked in via relief efforts.

The earthquake also decimated schools. 906 of them, the vast majority in the region were destroyed or substantially damaged. It’s all part of what’s driven the migration. 

“If school are closed, there is no livelihood if you have no access to drinking water, food, migration becomes your only option,” Duvillier said. 

And deportation back to Haiti – as is happening now. Duvillier says it creates a danger for the children.

In the face of the extreme challenges, UNICEF has found a way to keep education going, even without the schools. In the last few days, volunteers have distributed 60,000 backpacks full of supplies. 

But more are needed. Through donations to UNICEF to end the cycle of poverty, violence and migration. 

“When the child goes home, this smile, this joy is contagious and is brought home to the parents,” Duvillier said. “And that’s what we want to create, a positive movement saying it’s possible to live, teach and learn and to grow healthy in Haiti today despite the earthquake, despite the instability, the gang violence. It is possible we see it every day but we need more resources.”  

More Haitians continue to make the journey to wait in squalid conditions at the Texas border. And the ACLU has filed suit to stop the use of what’s known as Title 42, which speeds up deportation during a pandemic. It started by the Trump Administration but has been continued by the Biden White House.