Two years after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake rocked Haiti, 600,000 illiterate children remain out of school, leaving the country's next generation of leaders on the streets and without the education, mentors and tools necessary to move beyond a life of destruction and disappointment.
As aid groups devise ways to speed up the rebuilding of a country where more than half a million people are living in tents, they are focusing their efforts on repairing infrastructure, treating diseases and providing clean drinking water. While schooling is key to empowering young people, charities are simply strapped for resources and the education system remains largely privatized in Haiti.
"What's the message that we've all given them?" remarked Michelle Karshan, founder of a literacy program called Li, Li, Li! Read Haiti. "Not just the Haitian government, the world together has left these kids in the camps and basically blamed the victims."
While major aid organizations have pledged to rebuild the ravaged cities, several grassroots charities have stepped up to educate the poorest of the poor and give them a reason to believe that they can, one day, leave their impoverished roots behind them.
For the thousands of children living in crowded, decrepit tents, there's little protection from sexual violence and terrorizing nightmares. Karshan worries about how these kids sleep at night, but she knows that Li, Li, Li! Read Haiti at least helps to ease their anxiety.
Launched in May 2010, Karshan's charity trains local Haitians in the art of reading aloud and sends them to 25 of the most run-down tents to share stories with children.
"It's an affirmation that people still care about them, people still believe in them," Karshan told The Huffington Post. "They're getting this entertainment, which is educational at the same time."
The seven readers visit each camp for one hour per week, to read to kids aged 2 to 12 years. For most of the children, this is their only access to education, which is why Karshan trains her readers extensively and chooses books that have a resounding lesson.
"It gives them hope," Karshan said. "It gives them hope that one day they'll go to school."
Feeling inspired? Donate to Li, Li, Li! Read Haiti here.
GETTING TO THE HEAD OF THE CLASS
A week after the earthquake hit, Artists For Peace And Justice already had makeshift schools set up in tents throughout Port-au-Prince.
"The school became more important than ever, because it became a real center point of the community," country director Bryn Mooser told the Huffington Post.
Though Artists For Peace And Justice helped out with medical aid and food distribution after the earthquake, the nonprofit -- established in 2009 -- never lost sight of its main mission: to bring education opportunities to kids who would never otherwise have a chance.
In October 2010, the organization opened the doors to a high school that served 400 students, free of charge. It brought in an additional 800 kids the following year later and will break ground on another wing Thursday, the second anniversary of the earthquake.
But the building is more than just a school. Its lush green campus and technologically advanced classrooms are a point of pride for the students.
"It's a departure from the normal throw-up-a-tent-and-call-it-a-school," Mooser said. "This is an institution with all the bells and whistles and all of the pride and care as any great institution, anywhere in the world."
Mooser and the school's administration say that they want to do more than just increase the 19 percent high school graduation rate. They want to graduate competitive, high-achieving students.
"We hope that these kids take on the elite rich schools in Haiti in debating and sports," Mooser said. "And we’re going to kick their ass."
Feeling inspired? Donate to Artists For Peace And Justice here.
Kona Shen was amazed at how, even amid all of the destruction and loss Haiti's kids faced following the earthquake, they could still revel in the joy of playing soccer.
"These kids will do anything for soccer," Shen told the Huffington Post. "If these kids have this much passion and energy for the game, what other social things can they accomplish in their lives and in their communities?"
Shen's realization prompted her to found GOALS, a nonprofit that gives kids living in the ravaged city of Lygon the chance to play soccer and commit their time to community service and to education programs.
Five days a week, 500 kids meet for three hours to play, clean up their communities and do schoolwork. The high school students who show the most promise are rewarded scholarships, 30 of which were given out last year.
Shen says that the program is emboldening and that the kids say they want to grow up to be doctors, lawyers, engineers and agriculturists. When they have an important occasion to attend, like a funeral, they wash and wear their GOALS jersey.
"It's about putting in that time, doing everything they can as individuals and seeing the rewards of that," Shen said. "It's gratifying for kids to see themselves as talented and skilled."
Feeling inspired? Donate to GOALS here.