A story about education and European solidarity
by: Nora Kushti
Every time I go to visit one of the “EU4Schools”, I find myself walking down the memory lane. I remember my school in communist Albania and those of my children in post communism 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. A sight for sore eyes.
One school? No! 63 schools of different 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- made 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 children themselves - a reminder of European solidarity and unwavering support. They are grateful.
Why are the #EU4Schools a novelty?
All EU4Schools and kindergartens are built based on two key principles embedded in the programme: #BuildBackBetter and #BuildBackTogether- implying building stronger structures, which can resist disasters and in line with the highest European standards of quality and safety, energy efficient to protect the environment. It implies building modern and contemporary education institutions fit for 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, in the kind of schools which they themselves had sketched in paper in thousand shapes and flying colors. A dream come -true!
Fatjona Palaj, an eight grader at “Gjokë Elezi” 9-year school in Laç, Kurbin, says:
“I remember in our old school, an wooden stove was helping us cope with cold winter days. Often the rain would pour down the class and classes would be suspended until the classrooms would be “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, we feel we can conquer the world” .
Ejona Cerepi, whose son attends “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 school’s vision and mission: a school without barriers which gives pupils knowledge and prepares them for the future”.
“Dion feels his creativity is blooming in this new environment of high standards for the teaching and learning process. Classrooms, labs, and 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 from the neighboring schools to be registered here. Our teaching has become much more productive! Labs, sports playgrounds, gym, heating system and everything else is absolutely different and absolutely great”.
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.
The 6,3-mag earthquake that hit Albania in November 2019, left behind victims, destroyed homes, schools, businesses. I remember that sad day too well. The earth kept shaking. Our house too, while I kept screaming and fearing for my children. Images on TV later were shocking. People had remained in ruins. Destruction. Fear. Anger had struck! And news of European solidarity was fast. On the ground. With the people. Giving a helping hand. Our UNDP too. It is in one of these moments that you feel truly proud working for an organization which works for people.
Two years ago today, the European Union organized “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 guiding tool for the Conference and as a basis for the 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 #EU4Schools Programme came to life with a budget of EUR 75 million by the EU and UNDP’s own contribution of EU 765.000. UNDP is implementing the Programme.
And this is when children’s dreams started to take shape.
Statistics have power
The Post 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.
· 63 education institutions stand at the heart of the Programme
· 11 municipalities targeted
· 1,087,897 people benefiting in total
· 24,500 students, children and teachers benefiting
· 21 education facilities completed.
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, 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 Europeans than ever.