A story about education and European solidarity

by: Nora Kushti

When I go to visit one of the “EU4Schools,” I find myself walking down memory lane. Remember my school in communist Albania and those of my children in post-communist Albania. Nothing compares to the school in front of my eyes.

Large classrooms! Well lit! Well-heated! Beautiful and colorful desks and benches! Sports Courts! Gyms! Modern laboratories! Libraries! Disability-friendly elevators! The list is endless.

One school? No! Sixty-three schools of diverse levels to realize the dreams of around 24,500 children, students, and teachers — a promise on paper during the International Donors’ Conference on 17 February 2020, to help Albania cope with the disaster — became a reality through the generous funding of Europeans through the European Union. They know too well the importance of a good education. And it is no coincidence that a kindergarten in Qerekë in Kruja Municipality is named “Kindergarten Evropa” by the children themselves — a reminder of European solidarity and unwavering support. They are grateful.

Large classrooms! Well lit! Well-heated! Beautiful and colorful desks and benches! Sports Courts! Gyms! Modern laboratories! Libraries! Disability friendly elevators! The list is endless.

One school? No! Sixty-three schools of various levels to realize the dreams of around 24,500 children, students, and teachers — a promise on paper during the International Donors’ Conference on 17 February 2020, to help Albania cope with the disaster — became a reality through the generous funding of Europeans through the European Union. They know too well the importance of a good education. And it is no coincidence that a kindergarten in Qerekë in Kruja Municipality is named “Kindergarten Evropa” by the children themselves — a reminder of European solidarity and unwavering support. They are grateful.

“Evropa” Kindergarten in Qerekë, Kruja Municipality
From the inauguration of “Korb Muça” 9-year school & “Evropa” kindergarten in in Qerekë, Kruja Municipality

Why are the #EU4Schools a novelty?

In the reconstruction process, UNDP applies two fundamental principles: #BuildBackBetter and #BuildBackTogether- implying building stronger structures, which can resist disasters and are in line with the highest European standards of quality and safety, energy efficient to protect the environment. It implies building modern and contemporary educational institutions fit for the 21st century. And everyone deserves a good education. It points to the future. It also implies engaging the beneficiaries themselves, the children, teachers, parents, and the community to have a strong say in the reconstruction process through consultations and continuous communication.

7200 children in 21 education institutions are already attending classes in new and modern schools, the kind of schools that they themselves had sketched on paper in a thousand shapes and flying colors- a dream come true!

Powerful testimonies

Fatjona Palaj, an eighth grader at “Gjokë Elezi” 9-year school in Laç, Kurbin, says:

“I recall a wooden stove in our old school helping us cope with the frosty winter days. "Frequently, rain would fall on the class, and classes would be halted until the classrooms were “dried,” not to mention the ready-to-fall-apart desks and tables. Sad memories!”

On November 26th, 2019, our school was thoroughly damaged. For two years, we attended makeshift classes in a neighboring school while ours was being rebuilt. Now that we have assumed classes in our fantastic new school, we feel much more motivated to gain knowledge, we feel safer, and we feel we can conquer the world.”

Fatjona Palaj, student of “Gjokë Elezi” 9-year school in Laç, Kurbin

Ejona Cerepi, whose son attends the “Mehmet Babamusta” 9-year school in Kavaja, says:

“This new academic year found my son Dion in a new school. Contemporary premises, as per the best European standards, do comply well with the school’s vision and mission: “a school without barriers that gives pupils knowledge and prepares them for the future.”

Parent Ejona Cerepi with her son at “Mehmet Babamusta” 9-year school, Kavaja Municipality

“Dion feels his creativity is blooming in this new environment of high standards for the teaching and learning process. Classrooms, labs, and the library offer pupils the opportunity to pursue their dreams. “On the other hand, sports playgrounds create opportunities for our children to stay healthy,” Ejona says.

Naim Alla, teacher of Albanian language and literature at Sherif Dervishi 9-year school and kindergarten in Budull, Kruja, says:

“The devastating earthquake destroyed our school. Thanks to #EU4Schools, we are living another reality. Every day we receive requests from children in neighboring schools to be registered here. Our teaching has become much more productive! “Labs, sports playgrounds, gyms, heating systems, and everything else is absolutely different and absolutely great.”

Teacher Naim Alla, “Sherif Dervishi” 9-year school & kindergarten in Budull, Kruja Municipality

These are but a few voices coming from the community of children and parents. I was true to what they said. I only omitted a thousand words of gratitude coming from their hearts. They feel that Europe has never been closer.

Retrospect

The 6.9-magnitude earthquake that struck Albania in November 2019 killed 51 people and destroyed homes, schools, and businesses. I remember that sad day too well. The earth kept shaking, as did our house, while I kept screaming and fearing for my children. Images on TV later were shocking. People had perished in the ruins. Destruction. Fear. Anger had struck! And word of European solidarity spread quickly. On the ground. With the people. Giving a helping hand. UNDP was there too. It is in one of these moments that you feel truly proud of working for an organization that works for people.

Two years ago today, the European Union organized the “Together for Albania” International Donors’ Conference in Brussels with one single aim: Support the reconstruction efforts after the devastating earthquake. The European Union, the United Nations, the World Bank, and the Government of Albania carried out a Post-Disaster Needs Assessment, which served as a guide for the conference and as the basis for reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts. The European Commission pledged €115 million from the EU budget to rapidly reconstruct and rehabilitate key public buildings. This is how the #EU4Schools Programme came to life with a budget of EUR 75 million from the EU and UNDP’s own contribution of EUR 765.000. UNDP is implementing the Programme.

And this is when children’s dreams started to take shape.

Statistics have power

The Post-Disaster Needs Assessment, a government-led exercise, provided a full panorama of the physical damages, economic losses, and costs of meeting recovery needs. The earthquake did not just damage the infrastructure of 321 education institutions, but also labs, furniture, ICT equipment, libraries, textbooks, and other learning materials. A sad panorama

#EU4SChools

63 education institutions stand at the heart of the Programme

11 municipalities are targeted.

In total, 1,087,897 people will benefit.

24,500 students, children, and teachers benefiting

There are now 21 completed educational facilities.

Two years after

Two years after Europeans displayed their unparalleled solidarity with Albania, children are the first to “feel” and experience it. The new schools have made learning and teaching more interesting, more productive, and more fun. I always thought that when you give children a good education, you open a new world to them. I believe “EU4Schools” has done so. They feel more European than ever.

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