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Haiti students fear future buried in rubble

By David McKenzie, CNN
A mother grieves for her daughter, Nadiege, at the rubble of the Faculty of Applied Linguistics.
A mother grieves for her daughter, Nadiege, at the rubble of the Faculty of Applied Linguistics.
  • Students who survived Haiti quake fear their futures are now changed forever
  • At one language school half of the 500 students are still missing
  • A professor says: The flame [that is] our school must not go out

Port-au-Prince, Haiti (CNN) -- It was once a proud center of learning, a bastion of Creole language and culture. But now students say that their potential for knowledge, like so many of their classmates, is buried under the rubble of The Faculty of Applied Linguistics in Port-au-Prince Haiti.

Haiti's devastating earthquake crushed the aspirations of countless students and left institutions of higher learning in tatters.

"I lost my daughter, I lost my only child," screamed an inconsolable mother as the throws her hands up in prayer at a memorial service at the Linguistics school. "I lost everything. I will never be able to give birth to another child."

Her daughter's name was Nadiege, a 30-year-old doctoral student known by fellow students for her ready smile and infectious laugh. She is lost under the ruins.

Of the roughly 500 students at the university, nearly 250 are missing. Some were in afternoon classes, some having tea when the earthquake hit.

They haven't been able to rent moving equipment to clear the ruins so language tapes, computer keyboards and bits of clothing protrude through the cement. The unmistakable smell of death is everywhere.

"I cried out. I cried out "help me to save the students,"" said John Raymond Silvestre, a fourth year student at the school. John said he had stepped out for a moment to pick up a book when the earthquake hit and the four-story building collapsed like a house of cards.

Haiti's education sector is reeling from the earthquake. In a country already struggling to produce enough qualified graduates, thousands of students are missing and years of learning were lost.

Video: Haiti's new normal
Video: Haiti's universities grieve
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  • Earthquakes
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At the site of the GOC University, a private college well-known for its civil engineering and economics departments, the only hint of its function are the colorful plastic chairs strewn across the wasteland.

Perched on the side of a steep hill overlooking the capital, the university was completely flattened.

And a few blocks away, Port-au-Prince University spills onto the road -- only its smartly painted sign survived.

Farrah and her cousin Elizabeth are visiting again for the first time. They pick over the mountain of debris in high heels taking photos as they go. Farrah is an economics student at the university and she worries about her future. "I am young and I want to come back to study," she says.

Professors say they are committed to forging on despite the catastrophe.

"We need to make them feel alive again," said Rogeda Dorce Dorcil, a professor at the Linguistics University, "because they represent the future of Haiti, they have to work to have courage to build again this new Haiti.

"We feel like crying when we think about all that we have lost; the work we have done, the final exams of the students, long hours of work.

"It's a huge loss, it is a loss that we cannot measure, but it is essential that we must continue. The flame [that is] our school must not go out."

But, the professor added, with the universities in ruins and students too afraid to even step inside a building, that rebuilding is a long way off.