By Fiammetta Cappellini
Despite all our efforts and the endless days of work two weeks after Hurricane Matthew violently struck Haiti and left 750,000 people in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, we are still facing an emergency situation. We struggle, powerless, facing this enormous disaster. There are no houses, schools or bridges. Nothing works. We have no power, no Internet, no water or infrastructures. And, more importantly, there is no food.
The rain stopped, but the soaked ground no longer absorbs anything. Filthy water that becomes black mud mixed with broken branches covers the ground. Huge trees clutter the streets of the major cities or lie in the fields, as if they had been ripped from the soil by the hand of a giant.
The exceptional sea storm that accompanied the hurricane swept the coast for hours and days. Haiti’s white beaches have disappeared, and the restaurants along the sea were swallowed up by the waves. A pierced boat is still enthroned in the middle of a street in the center of Les Cayes, more than 500 meters from the pier.
Surrounded by a landscape similar to the one seen in the movie The Day After, we struggle. Disoriented and incredulous, we can’t get used to this devastation. AVSI’s staff is waiting for the World Food Programme (WFP) truck that is bringing 300 tons of food, which will then be distributed to nearly 20,000 families, the most vulnerable families of Les Cayes. While part of AVSI’s staff was waiting to unload the bags and prepare the rations, the rest of us was visiting the communities to prepare the distribution.
There is not enough food for everyone, so we must decide who needs it most and we have to come to an agreement. After exhausting discussions with mayors and religious leaders, and after distributing thousands of passes, we are finally ready: 19,900 families will receive a monthly ration of rice, beans and oil. We now have a month to think about the next steps.
Along the road, we see houses wrecked by fallen trees; the river remains high carrying mud and debris. There are almost no roofs in place. Two weeks after the hurricane, we are still surrounded by water everywhere. Yet, the sun shines high in the sky and the temperature reaches almost 95 degrees.
We stop at the University of Agriculture that has been our partner for the last 18 years. The director is waiting for us, smiling despite the situation. He shows us the damage and once more, we feel powerless in the face of destruction. The university’s premises were not affected, but the new laboratory, not yet open to the students, suffered serious damages.
The experimental farm, where young agronomists practice their skills, is devastated: there are no trees standing, the cultures were swept away and the space where students were breeding chickens and rabbits was completely destroyed. I cannot even say where the greenhouse was: it has been completely erased.
The University doesn’t event seem to be the place I knew. When we reached the library, we found more devastation. The hurricane has torn and thrown away the windows, and has flooded the premises with water. Most books are lost. On the balcony, a handful of students are at work: they lay the books in the sun, and then turn the pages so they don’t stick together. The students put the books back in the sun to dry with a rock on top so they don’t fly away.
They are tired, and they still don’t know when the courses will resume. Yet, the books are precious and they cannot be lost. So, while the students wait for the University to reopen, they spread the books out in the sun to dry.
This is Haiti. You can shake its foundations with one of the worst earthquakes in History. You can inundate its lands and sweep away its houses with a very violent hurricane, but the country will always find a way to get back on its feet. Haiti will only find a place from which to start again, from where to start rebuilding. I don’t know where Haitians find this strength, this determination. But they are like that. They sit under the mercilessly Caribbean sun, turning the pages of a book lying in the sun to dry, surrounded by a devastated landscape. They firmly believe that the book will dry. Despite everything, they believe that tomorrow life will be better.
ON OCTOBER 14, 2016, AVSI CELEBRATED 30 YEARS OF ACTIVITIES IN KENYA. AUTHORITIES, GUESTS FROM ITALY, SWITZERLAND AND UGANDA, PARTNERS, TEACHERS, PARENTS AND STUDENTS OF LITTLE PRINCE PRIMARY SCHOOL, AVSI STAFF AND FRIENDS GATHERED TO CELEBRATE THE IMPORTANT OCCASION. AVSI REPRESENTATIVE IN THE COUNTRY ANDREA BIANCHESSI OPENED THE EVENT WITH THE FOLLOWING SPEECH:
by Andrea Bianchessi, AVSI Representative in Kenya
"I would like to briefly highlight how AVSI is planning to face some key challenges in Kenya in the next years.
First of all, our approach is based on the conviction that we are living an epochal change, as Pope Francis realistically recognized, based on the many challenges the world, but also Kenya, has to face. These challenges range from the movement of migrants and refugees, radicalization and terrorist attacks, political instability in East and Central Africa with new or protracted crisis like in Somalia, South Sudan and Burundi, youth unemployment and the rapid growth of cities to the lack of basic services in many areas of the country, either in the slums or rural areas, and including a lack of electricity that is so important for education and the development of business. To this list, I would like to add as Pope Francis had pointed out during his visit to Kenya last year: tribalism, corruption, destruction of the environment and radicalization.
Yet, although there are many challenges, Kenya has a lot of opportunities: economic development, construction of infrastructure including roads and railways, deep interconnection with the global economy, the wide-spread use of mobile phones, and social capital expressed in many SACCO (save and credit cooperative). Kenya is also demonstrating leadership in the East Africa region, as Nairobi is an international and regional hub of some important UN agencies.
In front of these challenges, we have defined the next steps for AVSI in Kenya in the coming years, in partnership with all of you:
The question remains: How are we going to reach this?
Thanks, asantenisana, grazie!
By FIAMMETTA CAPPELLINI.
In 2010, the earthquake took us by surprise and we were terribly shocked. Six years later, almost seven, Hurricane Matthew hits Haiti and it’s a tragedy foretold. For days we had been following the formation of the storm online.
For days we studied its trajectory and waited. What were we waiting for? Were we hoping that it wouldn’t affect us? No, we were waiting for a miracle, we were hoping that the hurricane would dissipate, that in spite of the catastrophic predictions the system would disappear and the sun would shine again. Because when you live on an island, in the middle of the sea and a hurricane decides to cross your way, where do you go? How do you hide? Nowhere. You can only hope for a miracle.
But the miracle never happened. The sky became darker, the clouds bigger and bigger, until it became a gray wall. The wind, the rain, became stronger and stronger, and we didn’t know where we were anymore.
Palm trees were bending and then sometimes flying away, gone with the wind. The rain started tapping loudly on the rooftops. It seems you are in the middle of the ocean when a hurricane hits so violently. This hurricane was cruel. It was powerful, the most powerful in the last decade, and it was slow, pausing for a long period of time, and leaving behind destruction and desolation.
Then finally, it was gone, leaving behind a silent land. Now, in Haiti, especially in the South department, there is only silence. Those who have never heard the silence immediately after a disaster cannot understand. It’s a silence that represents death, destruction. It’s a terrible silence.
Water is everywhere, and it’s hard to differentiate the fields from the streets. There are no more houses, no more cultivated land. There is only water, everywhere. They say that overnight we had more than half a meter of rain. Before the hurricane we could see fruit trees, houses, schools and churches… Now we can only see water, and mud.
As soon as the wind stopped blowing wildly, AVSI’s staff gathered, but a few were missing and we could only hope that they were busy trying to rebuild their own houses, that nothing more serious happened to them.
Those who did come to work, drove fast with their Jeeps. First, they looked for our colleagues, and then for the children that AVSI helps in Haiti through our Distant Support Program. Those are our most vulnerable children.
Many roads are closed, if not most of them. We cannot even think of reaching the most distant communities, so we began with the closest one, because we had to begin somewhere.
We visit one house at a time. The Jeeps struggle with the mud and sometimes we need one car to tow another. And sometimes that’s not even enough. At the end of the day, we were speechless; shaking our heads. Nothing left.
We visited dozen of families and they all lost their homes. The government evaluates that 95% of the homes disappeared, dragged away by the hurricane, but trying to put in numbers on what happened is a useless exercise. We can summarize the situation in a word: catastrophe. One of our staff members showed me some pictures. She points to a black puddle and tells me: “In this area there was a house”. “Which area?” “There, where now we can only see a black puddle”. The whole life of a family left in a puddle.
There are 60,000 homeless, only in the South department; and we have schools, bridges, and roads to rebuild. Start from scratch. Again. “Why? Why Haiti, again?” We ask ourselves, especially the young ones. The older ones spread their arms, smile and don’t say a word.
The women stare at you for a second and quickly go back to their tasks, preparing a soup with who knows what, with a pot found who knows where, in the mud right outside the shelter. “The children need to eat,” they tell you. And then they look at you with a long hardened look that only a Haitian mother with a brood of children can give you. We understand. Tomorrow, we will come back with our truck, full of rice. Then, we will think about everything else. One step at a time.
By ROBERTA ALVES AND MARIE L'HERMINE
Photos taken by AVSI staff in Ivory Coast
In a country where only 56.9% of the population are able to read and write, AVSI found an easy and exciting way to bring thousands of new books to children’s doorsteps: foldable mobile libraries. As part of the project implemented by AVSI under the leadership of the World Food Programme (WFP), “Integrated Support for Sustainable School Canteens and Early Grade Reading in Ivory Coast” (2016-2020), 80,000 books will be distributed to 613 schools in seven program regions: Cavally, Bafing, Bagoue, Poro, Tchologo, Boukani and Gontougo. Each school will receive a mobile library which can hold up to 30 books and will include titles written by Ivorian, African and Francophone authors.
The project aims to improve the literacy skills of children attending primary school in Ivory Coast by assisting the Ministry of Education with the implementation of its new early grade reading curriculum including training teachers and facilitating parent and community involvement in literacy related activities. The World Food Programme (WFP) will be implementing a school feeding program in the same 613 schools with the intention of improving the nutritional status of children. Both sets of outcomes—nutrition and early reading skills—will complement each other for greater impact on the lives of these children in Ivory Coast.
Research has shown the importance that access to books has in promoting a love of reading and fundamental skills at a young age.
“We want to give children a broader understanding of the French language,” explains Elly Bahati, AVSI Education Officer and Program Manager in Ivory Coast. “We began by choosing Ivorian authors as a priority and then we expanded with titles published in African Francophone countries and finally we included other books written in French”.
In July, the first step in this five-year project funded by the McGovern-Dole Food for Education Program through USDA, came to a close. AVSI, in partnership with the World Food Programme (WFP), the Ivory Coast Ministry of Education, and the National Statistical Institute (INS) carried out a robust baseline assessment of schools targeted for the project. AVSI brought on board the services of IMPAQ International, a DC based firm with plenty of experience in education evaluation, to test the reading skills of students in 100 primary schools in the seven regions. 1,181 students went through the testing—a combination of a reading assessment and school and household surveys. The main goal was to understand how many students can read according at grade level at the beginning of the project.
The results were poor, but not unexpected. Very few students can read at grade level: only 5% of first graders passed the acceptable reading threshold for their grade. Reading proficiency levels were low across all grades and the numbers seem to get worse as the children grow older: 14% of second graders, 22% of third graders, 11% of fourth graders, 6% of fifth graders, and 8% of sixth graders read at grade level. Across all grades, girls demonstrated lower reading skills than boys.
One positive finding was the widespread interest that children expressed towards reading. “Although there is a low presence of books outside of schools and low parental engagement in reading at home, children show a positive attitude towards reading and a growing desire for having access to more books,” says Bahati.
In the next few months, children at these schools in mostly rural regions of the country, will have the opportunity to be introduced to the mobile libraries through interactive activities like story time, music, theater and individual reading. The mobile libraries have already been used in big cities like the capital, Abidjan, but this will be the first time they are introduced in these regions. They were created with the idea of introducing books to children in a fun way.
AVSI Network was able to collect 30,000 books around the World
Once the project is completed, 125,000 children will have access to 80,000 books. 30,000 of them were donated to AVSI from francophone countries like Switzerland and France. The other 50,000 will be bought. Once each school has their library, children will be able to take books home on a regular basis to read with their families.
As part of the project, teachers working in the seven regions will also receive training on how to use improved tools to teach math and reading. The main new tools are a series of booklets designed to help students have a better understanding of letters and sounds in order to decode words and be able to read.
“This project is fundamental to deal with the current struggle with illiteracy in Ivory Coast and we are confident it will bring positive changes,” says Coulibaly Adama, General Adjunct of the National Ministry of Education.
Anton Barbu, responsible for AVSI’s activities in Syria, talks about the children of Damascus in this interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera: “Every day, I leave my house at around 7:30 to go to AVSI’s office in Damascus. It’s a ten-minute walk. On my way, I encounter at least 30 children sleeping on the sidewalk.”
How is the current situation in Syria?
I have recently spoken with a father who lives in #Aleppo. He described heartbreaking scenes: children wondering around the rubble because their families have either left town or can no longer take care of them. But also in Damascus the situation has deteriorated. Every time I stop at a traffic light, I’m “surrounded” by many children trying to sell whatever they have, most of the time stacks of tissues.
Is there a future for Syrian children?
In Europe we say that children are the future. In Syria, they are the present, in the sense that at least 2 million children are currently living a daily drama in areas difficult to reach.
Do you think in Damascus a child suffer less than in Aleppo?
If we really want to say that, I guess we can. At least in Damascus, children have a sidewalk to sleep on. In Aleppo, not even that.
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