Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with median per capita income estimated at less than $400 (US). Less than five percent of the Haitian population controls more than 70 percent of the country’s resources, while the “middle class” controls 20 percent and the remainder has no regular, stable resources. Unemployment hovers at 85 percent nationwide, causing more and more people to flock to the overcrowded capital in search of opportunity. Rising inflation, decreased international aid and political instability have added to the depressed economic situation; most live well below sustenance levels.
Although a majority of Haitians are illiterate (some estimates are as high as 85 percent of the population), education is considered a priority by Haitian parents, so much so that they will forego food for themselves and their children in order to pay school-related fees. Despite this, tuition, book and uniform fees, required at all public and private schools (and extremely modest by U.S. standards), can be cost-prohibitive to a family with multiple children and no steady or guaranteed income. Often parents will choose to send only one of their children to school, usually a male child, while the remainder will try to find or create work that can assist the family. This lack of steady income also means that those students who start school must often drop in and out based on funding, resulting in an inconsistent and less effective education. It is not uncommon for the 38 percent of children who make it from kindergarten to high school completion to be in their mid-twenties on graduation day.
Nutrition and health care
Nutrition and health care, as in most developing countries, are directly affected by social conditions, particularly repressed economic and education levels. Chronic and serious malnutrition affects almost 40 percent of the population, while half of the remaining 60 percent usually eat only one meal per day. Malnutrition’s direct impact on child intellectual and physical development means that almost two-thirds of all children between one and four years old are considered too light for their age. Poor sanitation and unsanitary water supplies put increased pressure on fragile immune systems that then have more difficulty staving off chronic diarrhea, one of the leading causes of child mortality in Haiti, or to heal from simple cuts and scrapes. In addition, overcrowding (often as many as 10 people living in one cramped, unventilated room) leads to chronic respiratory infection, tuberculosis, and malaria, all common ailments in Haiti.
Parental means to treat their own or their children’s health problems like funding for education are inconsistent or non-existent. Even if parents are aware of low- or no-cost health care options available to them, the opportunity cost of not working in order to get treatment (which can itself include unrealistic expectations of “bed rest”) combine with transportation costs to make health care unattainable for the majority of Haitians.
Physical education and sports
Haiti’s long and proud sports history, which includes Olympic Game medals and participation in the soccer World Cup in 1974, began its decline in the 1980s during the last years of the Duvalier regime, as the then dictatorial government chose to spend its money less and less on sports programs at the national level. Without this focus, sports development fell to the public school system, which has always been grossly underfunded. Physical education (PE) is compulsory in the Haitian education system, yet the requirement is not enforced due to a lack of funding for anything more than minimal academic instruction and the lack of space at public schools to hold PE classes (although a small number of elite private schools have PE classes, sports fields and equipped teams). This has resulted in fewer and fewer athletes of a caliber able to compete at national and international levels. There is no interscholastic competition within Haiti’s public schools, and it exists only minimally in the private school system.
KIDS LOVE SPORTS
Yet, like youth the world over, kids love to play sports and will participate with enthusiasm if given the opportunity. Several years ago, a smattering of fields in the major cities across Haiti were cleared and made available for use as sports fields. Many of these fields still exist, and despite their often unsafe conditions, they provide the only location where most children (predominantly boys) can go to play soccer. (Girls have few, if any, sports options if they do not attend private schools that have active sports programs.) Basketball hoops have also been installed in several public areas, mostly those with wide paved streets, but these offer little real basketball support.
Soccer is a national obsession, while basketball is growing rapidly in popularity. Soccer leagues within Haiti are sponsored by private companies, but rarely do these teams have regulation fields, appropriate coaching or adequate equipment. There has been a recent resurgence of interest in athletics at the national level through the Haitian National Basketball Federation, the Ministry of Sports Talent School, and the Track and Field Federation. There is a long way to go, however, in order to develop the talent that exists within Haiti — talent that could bring Haiti back to the international arena of competitive play.
Competitive Matches at FLADH
FLADH builds on the natural enthusiasm of kids to bridge the gap in physical education, nutrition, healthcare and schooling via a sports training program that daily reaches more than 650 youth aged seven to 20. Each participant in the sports training agrees to attend school on a regular basis and participate fully and regularly at the training center. In return for their commitment, the participants receive high-quality sports training — training that teaches themthe values of commitment, responsibility, goal-setting and achievement, and discipline. They also each receive a nourishing meal, sports equipment for their practices, and medical and education (tuition) assistance.