Rebuilding stronger schools for earthquake survivors in Rwanda

News and Press Release
Originally published
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By Katherine Uher

KIGALI, Rwanda, 2 June 2009 - The day began like any other quiet Sunday in the western province of Rwanda. Lake Kivu glimmered in the sun and the hills surrounding it were green and filled with life.

But shortly after nine AM on 3 February 2008, the first of a series of earthquakes hit the area. By day's end, 36 people had been killed and 643 were injured. In addition to the immediate human devastation, the earthquakes had also damaged 45 schools in the province.

Immediately after the disaster, UNICEF provided temporary structures for 212 classrooms, ensuring that students would be able to continue learning while their classrooms were repaired.

Joachin Nsangabandi, age 12, is one of the 27,000 students currently attending an earthquake-damaged school.

"I am in the fourth grade and I love my school," he said. "When the earthquakes struck our school, seven classrooms were damaged. I was very sad and I really hope that someone will help us fix the classrooms so that we can study in a solid structure."

Financial aid from Japan

Fortunately for Joachin, the government of Japan has donated $7.5 million to UNICEF to repair 18 of the most severely damaged schools in the Rusizi and Nyamasheke districts. Through the Japanese grant, Bumazi Primary School will have six classrooms rebuilt, and another less-damaged classroom rehabilitated.

The funding will also support repairs at three health centres in the area, which provide health care for approximately 48,000 people.

"The population rely on health centres for all basic health services," says UNICEF's Health Officer Dr. Denis Muhoza. "Despite the destruction caused by the earthquake, these centres have been able to continue providing services, but under very difficult conditions."

Rebuilding schools to be child-friendly

Many of the area's schools date back to the 1930s and were built with very few windows, allowing little light or air to enter the classrooms. Each reconstructed classroom will be built according to UNICEF's child-friendly school standards - standards that have now been adopted by the Government of Rwanda as the 'gold standard' for all schools in the country.

In addition, toilet facilities at all the schools will also be brought up to standard. This will include hand washing facilities, washrooms for people with physical handicaps and separate washrooms for boys and girls.

"Child-friendly schools promote integrated learning," explains UNICEF's Education Specialist in charge of implementing the Japanese grant Heinrich Rukundo. "If students are learning about the importance of hand washing it is critical that they are able to put their learning into practice and wash their hands at school."

Construction at Joachin's and other schools is scheduled to take place this year. In total, 72 classrooms will be rehabilitated and 95 classrooms reconstructed.