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Haiti: Upscale school tries to expel 11,000 families camping on its grounds

April 13, 2010

by Ansel Herz

Port au Prince (IPS) – For decades, the Saint Louis de Gonzague school has groomed some of Haiti’s most elite political players. Francois Duvalier, the iron-fisted dictator who ruled Haiti for 14 years, sent his son to the school. About 1,500 children of Haiti’s wealthiest class attend each year.

This family – with a delightful sense of humor – is one of the 11,000 families camping on the grounds of Saint Louis de Gonzague School in Port au Prince since their homes were destroyed by the Jan. 12 earthquake.
Within days of the January earthquake, the sparse concrete grounds of the Gonazague secondary school became home to nearly 11,000 Haitian families, driven out of destroyed neighborhoods in central Port au Prince.

Now the school’s director wants to reopen the school. The government encouraged schools to resume classes on Monday, calling it another small step towards normalcy.

The potential reopening of the school has inspired anything but calm among internally displaced people at Saint Louis de Gonzague. They have been threatened with expulsion by force.

“Everyone is nervous right now. If they force us to leave it will be second catastrophe,” said Elivre Constant. “A lot of people here don’t have anywhere to go. They have kids. They won’t be safe.”

Constant, a member of the camp’s organizing committee, said she heard police would come within days to move people out. “The headmaster threatened us with tear gas,” she said.

The Huffington Post reports that Father Patrick Belanger, the director of the school, has destroyed latrines built by the camp’s committee and prevented aid agencies from distributing food inside the camp for the past month.

But life has settled in here.

At night, vendors sell candies, drinks and meats in a market near the camp’s entrance. A few men wait beside a big white tent to have their hair cut by a barber inside. Motorcycle taxis ferry people in and out of the camp’s inner areas.

Doctors Without Borders operates a huge field hospital and warehouse situated near the rear of the camp. Orderly lines queue outside the gate each morning for medical care.

“We agree that a country without education is unacceptable, but if they push us out they need to move us to a place where the conditions exist to live, a normal place,” Bernard Saint-Fleur told IPS. His family came to Gonzague the day after the quake destroyed their nearby home.

Father Belanger and Mayor Wilson Jeudy of Port au Prince’s Delmas district have reportedly offered new land for the camp’s residents. But camp-dwellers say the area has enough space for only 500 people.

Only two of the eight buildings on the campus of the Saint Louis de Gonzague School that serves the crème de la crème of Haitian society survived the earthquake. Now the priests in charge was to force off their property 11,000 families camping there who lost everything. – Photo: F. Brugman, UNESCO
A volunteer-run school for children inside the camp has formed. A statement circulated by International Action Ties, a small U.S.-based NGO operating in the Delmas area, asked, “Why shut down one school serving many for free to reopen one that is private and only services far fewer students?”

In March, IPS reported on the forcible removal of a smaller camp by a Catholic priest from the garden of Villa Manrese. The garden, once crowded with makeshift shelters, is now empty but for three grey UNICEF tents. A free school serving dozens of students has been erected.

Former occupants of the camp moved their makeshift shelters into the surrounding hillside amidst the rubble. They said that food distributions were being well-coordinated by the priest and local organizers. But they fear the heavy rains ahead.

“Why shut down one school serving many for free to reopen one that is private and only services far fewer students?”

Haiti’s constitution recognizes rights for every citizen to “decent housing, education, food and social security.”

And the United Nations’ guiding principles on the rights of internally displaced people include “the right to be protected against forcible return to or resettlement in any place where their life, safety, liberty and/or health would be at risk.”

But there are further unconfirmed reports emerging each week from the disaster zone of IDP (internally displaced people) camps being torn down by private landholders.

A U.N. donors’ conference last week pledged some $10 billion in aid to Haiti, but many NGOs and activists are now questioning both the reconstruction plan and the likelihood that nations will follow through on their financial commitments.

Ansel Herz blogs at http://mediahacker.org.

One thought on “Haiti: Upscale school tries to expel 11,000 families camping on its grounds

  1. Philippe M.

    While it is disheartening to see so many people homeless, the truth is that they need to be moved to a more appropriate place. The school, which provides scholarships to many students who couldn’t afford the tuition, needs to continue its purpose of educating Haitian children.

    Reply

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