UNICEF helps Rwandan community build back after devastating earthquake

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By Jenny Clover

RUSIZI DISTRICT, Rwanda, 31 January 2012 – One Sunday morning three years ago, a devastating earthquake ripped through Rusizi and Nyamasheke, two of Rwanda’s south-western districts, injuring 643 and killing 36.

The Ministry of Education reported 24 schools and a number of hospitals were damaged or destroyed in the disaster.

After an emergency appeal launched by UNICEF, the government of Japan donated $7.5 million to rebuild and improve the damaged infrastructure. Today, as UNICEF’s reconstruction and improvement project nears its end, the area has been transformed.

At least 21 schools have been rebuilt, benefitting more than 20,000 quake-affected children. Teachers offices, latrine blocks and water tanks have also been installed. The rebuild schools also now adhere to Child-Friendly Schools standards. The Child-Friendly School model, promoted by UNICEF and adopted by the Government of Rwanda, provides an inclusive, holistic and child-centred approach to education. Health centres and public toilets have been also been built.

Schools better than before

This progress is obvious at Sainte Augustin de Giheke School in Rusizi. Classes were conducted in UNICEF-provided tents during the school’s reconstruction. Now, the school boasts new buildings including six classrooms, an administration block, three blocks of latrines, five water tanks and a playground.

“Many of our buildings were destroyed. We had to spend three years teaching from tents,” said Head teacher Marcelline Mumpundu. “But now we have brand new buildings that are far better than we had before, and we are a Child-Friendly School, which is much better for the children. We also have fantastic facilities, like our new playground, water tanks and latrines. It’s made a real difference to how our children are taught.”

“Even before 2008, we didn’t have enough classrooms in our schools, so when the earthquake happened it was really devastating for the district,” he said. “The support we were given has made a huge difference to us and to the children. Now we not only have schools which were repaired, but we have schools that are even better than they were before, and our pupils have improved ways of studying. Lots of important work has been done and our district is very grateful for it.” Empowering youth

Social and cultural changes in the community have been just as important as the rebuilding of infrastructure.

As part of the wider rebuilding project, a ‘One Stop’ centre was established in Rusizi, providing support to victims of gender-based violence. At the centre, survivors receive holistic care, including medical treatment, forensic interviews and psychological support.

UNICEF helped establish the Rusizi Child-Friendly Centre and Library, which offers games, toys and books, as well as regular group discussions and workshops on topics including sexual health, life-skills and HIV. Children at the centre also produce a weekly radio programme discussing issues including child protection, drugs and HIV. And UNICEF also helped form the Rusizi Youth Network to empower young people to offer peer-to-peer education about their rights.

“Yes, we had an earthquake, and yes, we reconstructed our buildings, but what is really impressive about this project is that we have started constructing the lives of our young people in a more positive manner,” said Youth, Sports and Culture Officer for Rusizi District Lambert Shema. With UNICEF support, the district has “put in place not only structures but means to empower our young.”