School children have been consulted on the reconstruction process from the get-go, by expressing and drawing their needs and desires for their new schools. Photos: UNDP Albania

Three months after the start of the new school year in 2019, life took an unexpected turn for school children in central Albania: a devastating earthquake hit the country.

Not only were their houses damaged, but their schools and kindergartens too, leaving them traumatized, anxious and uncertain about their future education and their lives.

“The earthquake destroyed my home and my school. It was so sad to see them both collapse,” said Anila, who attends school in Krujë — one of the municipalities hit by the 26 November earthquake.

With their hopes shattered, parents and school children in the community began to wonder if life will ever return to normalcy - and if and when they would be able to recover what had been lost.

“What will happen with our school? Will classes resume soon? When will I see my friends again? And the literature classes? I really miss the football tournament among the schools…”

Such questions haunted children for a while.

It’s not unlike the questions haunting children and parents now, amidst the pandemic. But in this case, there was a clear direction forward.

(Left and right) The 26 November earthquake left behind 51 dead and much destruction.

 

A few months after the earthquake, as smoke began to settle, the residents in the affected areas started to get a glimpse of recovery.

First, the European Union, UN, World Bank and the government conducted a post-disaster needs assessment. This served as a guiding tool at the EU-organized “Together for Albania” international Donors’ Conference. The EU pledged EUR€115 million for a recovery plan, including a €15 million grant to rapidly reconstruct and rehabilitate key public buildings such as schools.

The EU, in partnership with UNDP and the Albanian government, then coordinated efforts to reconstruct the affected communities in order to accelerate recovery.

Now, students and families in five municipalities are seeing progress in their future. 22 education facilities, including kindergartens and high schools, will be restored or rebuilt as part of the recovery initiative.

“The great news is that a more beautiful and safer school will replace the old one,” says Anila. “I’m here with my parents and my friends to discuss how I want the new school to be. I have even sketched it,” she says, showing her ‘dream school’ on paper.

(Left and right) Consultations taking place in Budull, Albania.

 

Building Forward Better

Anila is right about getting a safer school. UNDP is combining a ‘Build Back Together’ approach with a ‘Build Forward Better’ vision within each municipality. These bring together local governments, communities and public institutions in designing and implementing rapid recovery activities, promoting transparency ownership and sustainability of the investment.

By using a more participatory approach, UNDP is putting the community at the centre of rebuilding efforts. Most affected communities, especially students, parents and teachers, were invited to have a say in the reconstruction work. Over five hundred people participated in the 22 consultation sessions organised so far — a novelty for Albania.

“It’s the very first time we are invited to discuss the kind of school we and our children want,” said Fatime, a mother of 4, whose children study in Kurbin.

Being part of the reconstruction process gives residents the opportunity to have a say in major decisions that will affect their lives.

“The design company showed two designs and gave us details on how the school would be. They assured us that the new school will be built as per European standards and our children can study in decent schools like any other European.”

“During the consultations today my friends and I asked for a library to support our learning, which would promote reading among our peers,” said Artan, a 14-year-old student.

The new facilities are reconstructed to meet international standards concerning renewable energy, green spaces, and what’s most important — provision of accessibility for students with special needs.

New and improved

7,500 students will benefit from the restored education facilities, not only to continue their education, but also engage in arts and sports events with their friends and teachers — this time in brand-new premises.

The construction of the new educational facilities will not only be resistant to future earthquakes as per Eurocode 8, but will also meet European standards concerning renewable energy, green spaces, running water, hygienic facilities, sports facilities, internet coverage and what’s most important — provision of accessibility for students and other people with special needs.

The affected communities will benefit from more disaster-resilient infrastructure and systems with higher standards, meaning children can freely pursue their studies without fear of being subjected to a similar trauma. And all the necessary measures will be place to safeguard the safety, well-being and education of students, teachers and school personnel.

Large classrooms, green spaces, sports facilities, security fences, ad heating and cooling systems are but a few among the many requests coming from children and communities. The schools they want will soon be a tangible reality.

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The “EU4Schools” Programme is funded by the EU and implemented by UNDP in Albania. The recovery interventions are accompanied by mid- and longer-term strategies that aim to strengthen resilience and build capacity not only to reduce, but also to tackle the risks and effects of potential future disasters.

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