Recently, I visited an art exhibit in Washington, D.C. featuring the works of Haitian children. If you live nearby or are coming to the capital for a visit, I encourage you to visit the exhibit. It’s called the “Healing Power of Art: Works of Art by Haitian Children After the Earthquake.” (The physical exhibit is at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of African Art, but you can also view the pictures on-line.
The artwork is mostly colorful, though especially the early pieces have some dark hues, undoubtedly reflecting the feelings of loss, fright, and sadness that hundreds of thousands of young Haitian children have experienced. At the exhibit, I saw in the children’s pictures some of the same things I’d seen in Haiti in January – images of crooked buildings, collapsed houses, helicopters overhead, dangling wires, a U.S. Navy ship in the port -- and some signs of hope like yellow suns.
The earthquake took a heavy toll on schoolchildren and all elements of education in Haiti. The exhibit noted that, on January 12, 4,000 Haitian children died while in the classroom, many others died elsewhere, and 500 teachers were killed. The earthquake destroyed 90 percent of the school infrastructure and now 1.2 million children are out of school.
As First Lady Elisabeth Préval said of the children, “They are wounded in their bones and in their souls for having been the witnesses of an unimaginable human tragedy made of horrifying scenes of buildings collapsing on loved ones, people trapped under layers of concrete, countless bodies scattered on the streets . . .” She established recreation centers called “Plas Timoun” (A Place for Kids) to enable young children to express their feelings through art, music, theater, reading and sports. One of the activities is to paint pictures – in old school buses that now hold tables and art supplies.
So while art has healing powers for the children of Haiti, as a telecommunications regulator, I see that information and communications technologies (ICTs) have tremendous learning power for Haiti. ICTs can help children in Haiti learn, which in turn, will help them grow personally beyond the earthquake and, eventually, help them to rebuild their beloved country.
As Haiti reconstructs Port-au-Prince and undertakes new construction in the outlying areas to encourage new population centers, I encourage planners and policy makers to integrate ICTs into their overall reconstruction efforts and investment plans.
ICTs remove barriers of time and space, creating new possibilities. ICTs can provide learning opportunities for children through online classes and radio and television broadcasts. ICTs can help Haiti train new teachers through interactive online courses. ICTs can provide educational assistance from international aid organizations operating at a distance. Additionally, while Haiti lost many of its books and libraries, the Internet can serve as valuable research tool for teachers and students while print resources are scarce.
Universal education is vital to countries all over the world and achieving that universality is a challenge that we all face. At the FCC, we promote the use of broadband infrastructure for learning. As Haiti starts to reconstruct its telecommunications infrastructure, some broadband ideas that could be adapted for use include: providing digital literacy teacher training programs, making educational materials available electronically which widen access to information and expand knowledge, and transferring paper records to electronic forms on-line to protect them from physical destruction.
Haiti still has a long road to recovery. But like art, ICTs can shorten the distance. As the exhibit at the Smithsonian illustrates, art already is helping the children of Haiti heal. ICTs can help them learn.