Haiti groups welcome GG’s new gig as UN special envoy


MONTREAL – Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean’s appointment as a UN special envoy to Haiti is being praised by Haitian-Canadians who hope her presence will keep international attention focused on reconstruction efforts.

As as a representative for United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Jean will be helping with efforts to rebuild Haiti’s shattered education system.

It is a daunting task as only about half of Haiti’s school-aged children were enrolled in school before January’s massive earthquake, which wiped out thousands of schools.

Yet her supporters insist that if there is one person for the job, it’s Jean.

“(Her nomination) could not come at a better time,” said Georges Laraque, the former NHL enforcer who has since taken to raising funds for earthquake relief.

Laraque, whose parents were born in Haiti, recently returned from a humanitarian visit to the country.

“People were starting to forget about Haiti,” he said. “She won’t forget.”

Marjorie Villefranche, who heads a Haitian community centre in Montreal’s north end, agreed that Jean’s profile will ensure the needs of Haitians remain an international priority.

“We need people like her to maintain a certain level of interest in Haiti,” she said.

“I think she can she do a good job of keeping people aware.”

She noted that along with rapper Wyclef Jean, Michaelle Jean is the expat Haitians are proudest to boast as their own.

Development organizations say the Haitian native was an ideal choice as there are few people who better understand the country’s needs following January’s devastating earthquake.

“You couldn’t find someone who is more representative of the population and sensitive to their educational needs,” said Eric Faustin, who heads an association of development groups focused on Haiti.

Jean’s appointment, which was announced earlier this week, kicks in once her term as Governor General ends in September.

Awaiting her is an education system in shocking dissaray.

According to one UNICEF estimate, more than 4,000 school were destroyed by the earthquake. As many as 38,000 students and 1,300 teachers were killed. Even the country’s Education Ministry was crushed, along with employees inside and untold piles of student records.

The Haitian government has only recently started the process of sending 700,000 children back to school.

But Faustin argues that fixing the country’s education system is essential to the overall rebuilding effort.

“More than half of the population is under 30 years old, and education wasn’t an area that was prioritized in the past,” he said. “Nation-building can’t happen without education.”

He added that adult illiteracy rates are also alarmingly high and pose a problem to development.

The literacy rate in Haiti is 53 per cent. In the next-door Dominican Republic, it’s 87 per cent.

For her part, Villefranche called on Jean to pay particular attention to the fate of women in the hundreds of refugee camps set up around the country. Incidents of widespread sexual assault have been reported.

Jean was a battered-women’s activist before she became a journalist, which was the career she had prior to her vice-regal appointment.

“As a woman she should ask for something to be done about women’s security,” Villefranche said.

UNESCO was founded in 1945 and Canada became a member in 1946.

Its mission is to contribute to building peace, eradicating poverty and promoting education, culture, science and communication.

The organization currently has three designated special envoys: for water, education, and for literacy and development.


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