NEW YORK - Amid the rubble in Haiti, Israel is planning a 1,000-student school and community center in the heart of Port-au-Prince.
Several weeks after the Israeli field hospital in Haiti was dismantled, and amid growing concern over the country's long-term needs, officials hope to build a permanent compound - or Israeli-style village - that will include an elementary school, community center and playground. Staffed by local teachers, the compound will also house a medical clinic and rehabilitation center.
"I've been there, last week, and the situation is absolutely terrible. The refugee camps are popping up in appalling conditions, and things will get worse before they get better, no doubt," Ambassador Haim Divon, head of MASHAV - The Israel Center for International Cooperation, told The Jerusalem Post
"The idea again is to keep the kids out of the streets," he said. "This group of kids is the most vulnerable."
Divon hopes the school - which has a price tag of about $1.5 million - will be up and running next month. Initially, he envisions being able to accept 1,000 students.
"Let it be a successful model so it can be duplicated by others in other parts of the city," he said.
"This is one of the biggest disasters in the past decade," Divon noted. "Under those circumstances… it's the obligation of the international community, and us - ourselves as Jews and Israelis - to do whatever we can."
While Israel mobilized an impressive hospital in the days after the January 12 earthquake, which killed an estimated 230,000 people and injured 300,000 others, Haiti's many orphans and other children were stranded, homeless.
Israeli non-governmental organizations are starting to focus on the longer-term needs of those children. Last week, a delegation from the Natan Israeli Coalition for International Humanitarian Aid set up an 800-pupil makeshift school in a large tent in Port-au-Prince. Teachers were recruited from the city's large displaced persons camps; children found notebooks and supplies in the rubble.
Divon said the government's plan would create a permanent structure that would also provide shelter during the coming rainy season, when officials fear an escalation of homelessness and disease.
Still, the plan is in its early stages. Next week, Divon hopes to finalize the location and budget, with help from the project's main partner, the Joint Distribution Committee.
"Our approach is to do both immediate emergency relief and assistance, as well as longer-term development and assessments," said Will Recant, the JDC's assistant executive vice president.
The JDC worked with Israel to build a similar facility in Turkey.
After the earthquake in Haiti, the JDC funded equipment and medicine in the IDF field hospital, ran a soup kitchen through a local partner on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince and funded the installation of more than 140 water tanks with potable water.
To date, the JDC has raised $5.5m. for relief work in Haiti and has committed $1.7m. in the first emergency relief phase, which included the shipment of seven containers full of supplies.
"The first priority with respect to our funding and our programming is the area of greatest need by the victims," Recant said. "In this particular case, the amount of devastation, the kind of programs needed is very amenable to the idea of the Israeli village model" and its comprehensive approach "providing for various communal needs," he said.
In fact, the idea for the Israeli village is based on a similar model constructed in Kosovo. That facility was operational for nearly three years, and included a school, mainly for orphans.
Danny Biran, who was part of the advance team Israel sent to Haiti immediately after the earthquake, recalled the children who had arrived at the IDF hospital, scared and sometimes alone.
"If you ask me, what most moved me [was] to see the smile, when they entered the camp and were frightened… the first smile of such a kid was something unbelievable for me," said Biran, an official with the Foreign Ministry stationed in New York.
More than a month after the earthquake, Biran said there was still concern about the children.
"There is a lot of damage in Haiti, and we are very concerned about the
kids and what they are doing. They don't have where to stay, they don't
have houses, they don't have schools," he said.
Biran said there was much to be done in the next five, even 10 years.
"The point is, what are you going [to do] now?" he said. "That's what
Israel thought, that it would be good to open a school and a framework"
for the children.