This article has been published in Enabling Education Review 5
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Making schools inclusive after Haiti’s earthquake

Edmond Philogène

A disaster like an earthquake can close an entire education system overnight. Yet in such times of crisis, children more than ever need the safety, support and stability normally found in school. In this article, Edmond explains how CBM’s project in Haiti quickly set up educational and inclusive ‘safe spaces’, and used them as an opportunity to encourage children to return to regular schools. These schools were also starting a journey towards inclusion.

Inclusive safe spaces
Haiti experienced a devastating earthquake on 12 January 2010. A disaster on this scale inevitably led to a rise in the number of people with disabilities. Handicap International (2012) conducted a survey which indicated that 22.7% of households in Haiti now had one or more persons living with a disability, and only 48.6% of children with disabilities were registered in school.

Immediately after the earthquake, there was urgency to create an inclusive, child-friendly community space for safeguarding children, as the emergency situation increased the risk of abuse, neglect and exploitation. With so many people living in camps, there was limited control or authority, leading to the lack of a child protection system. CBM started the Child Day Care Center (CDCC), operated by the community-based organisations (CBOs) JOSE (Organise Youth for an Emancipated Society) and OJPE (Organisation of Youth for Child Protection), as a pilot project in the capital city, Port-au-Prince.

Creating such safe spaces allowed team members to address the specific needs of each child and young person. The goal was to provide an environment where every individual could feel safe to express themselves and continue to develop before returning to school. The first objective was to bring children with and without disabilities together and discover their capacities. In the space, various topics were discussed, such as hygiene, the environment, disaster and disability, progressively introducing the issues and rights of persons with disabilities.



In earthquake-affected areas, schools were closed for 4-5 months. The community considered the child-friendly space as their school. Facilitators developed an educational programme that delivered imaginative, physical, creative child-centred activities to provide education without blackboards or basic school materials. The activities included all children.

After the emergency phase, the children gradually returned to their old schools. However, the children with disabilities who had attended the child-friendly space had either never attended schools before, or their schools were too badly damaged for them to return to.

Making regular schools inclusive
Discussions with families and schools on the exclusion of children with disabilities from community schools started immediately. The main reasons cited for exclusion included: a lack of family and/or school resources; the high cost of health care; high rates of unemployment or low incomes; inaccessibility of schools; and lack of adapted curricula and materials. Also, parents of children without disabilities believed that academic results would be affected if children with disabilities were included.

A programme was developed to address these issues, involving activities such as:

A national symposium
The first national symposium of deaf education in Haiti brought together relevant stakeholders from the Ministry of Education (MoE), universities, special schools, NGOs, disabled persons’ organisations, and other members of civil society. Recommendations were made, shaping subsequent responses for deaf learners and those with other disabilities.

Through the project, a strong working relationship with the MoE has been developed, with a focus on strengthening and developing a specific legislative framework for persons with disabilities. The MoE requested a deeper understanding of inclusive education, and assistance with including it in their policies. Expertise was provided to support the ministry, including support with tackling the challenge of bringing private education provision (80% of Haiti’s education services) under strong national regulation.

Teacher training and collaboration
The project highlighted that under-resourced schools with low teacher capacity and/or availability were leading to poor learning outcomes. Investment in teacher capacity was needed to support strategic development and promote inclusive education for all. Through the project, 145 mainstream teachers received a 10-day training on inclusive education approaches, focusing on pedagogical changes. A network for inclusive education was developed. This space allowed specialist and regular teachers, community-based rehabilitation (CBR) workers, government representatives, and parents, to meet and discuss challenges and solutions to inclusion.

One such solution was the need for more investment into specialist provision, such as speech therapy, to better support regular teachers. A second was advocating and working with school principals as an important first step to achieving inclusion.

“I realise now how much harm I did to children in my community for the first 10 years as principal of a school. During this time I refused entry to at least one disabled child every year. It’s hard to admit, but it is true” (school principal)

Parent and community involvement
Local monthly discussion groups led to the creation of community parents’ committees, which help to identify children with disabilities and refer them to relevant CBOs for further support. Parents have become more engaged in understanding their children’s needs and learning how to support their children and other parents. The parents of children with disabilities have learned about early identification and the preventable causes of disabilities, leading to them seeking earlier access to health care and other services. They have also become focal points for helping other parents and families access referral to other services and support for their children.

Identification alone was not enough. Strong community-based service networks (for health, education and government) were established through the CBOs, to develop community-based early intervention, alongside early childhood development and care services. In addition, awareness-raising activities were organised, such as celebrations related to the International Day of Persons with Disabilties on 3rd December, to increase community understanding and involvement. Inclusive community-based, cultural and social, leisure activities brought children and young people with and without disabilities together.

Finally, to better support parents of children with disabilities, micro-loans and training were provided to improve their financial situation and their ability to support their children’s education.

Future development
CBM will support the MoE and civil society to:

  • Develop 10 model inclusive schools, one in each of the country’s 10 administrative departments.
  • Reinforce the university-level curriculum for teachers.
  • Establish a national network to promote inclusive education.
  • Create a research and development unit to create educational material adapted to the local context.
  • Expand the reach of community-based programmes through partnerships, with a greater focus on CBR.

Edmond Philogène is Inclusive Education Programme Coordinator at CBM-Haiti