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When disaster becomes the backdrop for childhood

Amid a growing cholera epidemic, two weeks after a hurricane threat and 10 months after losing his left leg in an earthquake, 4-year-old Schneily Similien was turned away from school.

It happened last week, when school officials stopped the Haitian amputee and his father, Ducarmel, at the entrance of a local kindergarten in Leogane, 20 miles from the nation’s capital.

Schneily’s family owes the school money for tuition, about 35,000 Haitian gourdes, or the equivalent of about $875 U.S., and the principal said the boy couldn’t return until it was paid.

“I thought he was joking,” Ducarmel Similien, an unemployed carpenter, told msnbc.com through a translator.

He wasn’t.

That’s just the latest challenge of grinding life in post-quake Haiti, where the aftermath of the Jan. 12 temblor has been exacerbated by further disasters. Msnbc.com has followed Schneily and his family since March, when the boy received a prosthetic limb to replace his left leg and foot, which were crushed by falling concrete.

Ducarmel took Schneily home from the school, back to the ragged tent shared by the family of five. The boy didn’t mind; for him it simply meant more time to run and jump and ride his yellow bike with the training wheels. For Schneily, disaster is just the backdrop of his childhood.

But for Ducarmel and Schneily’s mother, Darline, the struggle to forge a new life for Schneily and his brothers, Scarcely, 13, and Schmeider, 10, goes on.

Their tent was damaged when Hurricane Tomas barely bypassed Haiti in early November, brewing vicious winds that lashed the makeshift house and floods that sent scorpions swimming in with the water.

So far, the Similiens (the family name is also sometimes spelled Cimilien) have avoided the cholera epidemic that has now killed more than 1,100 people and hospitalized nearly 18,400 across Haiti. Ducarmel says they make sure to treat drinking water from a local pipe with chlorine, but he’s concerned.

“I’m worried,” Ducarmel said. “I don’t want me or my family to have it.”

Meanwhile, Schneily’s artificial leg is much worse for wear: cracked on the bottom, making it hard for the boy to walk straight. When he takes it off, it stinks inside, his mother says.

And there’s still too little money. Jobs remain scarce. The family is pinning hope on selling groceries and water from a small roadside store. Ducarmel was able to pay rent on a tiny shop, thanks to a donation from an msnbc.com reader.

Still, for now, there’s no way to pay for supplies to sell, and certainly no way to pay for Schneily’s education. “Since the earthquake, I think a lot of things,” Ducarmel said. “Sometimes I look at my son and I cry.”