In Albania, reeling from a deadly earthquake, a family takes things one day at a time

UNICEF continues to support the Government’s disaster response

Anila Miria and Chulho Hyun
Esma drawing
UNICEF/Albania/Olsi Beci
04 December 2019

DURRES, Albania – Esma Nuro knows she is lucky to be alive.

She and the rest of her family were fast asleep at 4AM on November 26, when the first of the tremors began. As the ground beneath them trembled and shook, the family members ran outside as quickly as possible. Albania was experiencing a 6-4-magnitutde earthquake, the country’s strongest in more than 40 years. The Nuro’s home in the village of Kulla, 10kms from the hardest-hit city of Durrës, was destroyed. Everyone in the family was safe.

“I don’t know where my friends are, whether they survived or not,” says Esma, age 12. “I lost my clothes, my school work, and my paintings. I lost everything.”

Eventually, the family made their way to a makeshift area in Durrës for affected populations. They spent the first few nights in a tent, but amid heavy rains and dropping temperatures, the government moved all families to nearby hotels.

For Esma’s mother, Ariana, 37, who is looking after four children, the fear is still fresh. “The children insist that I stay with them as they go to bed at night. They are afraid to sleep alone. We used to have a normal life, but now everything is gone,” she says.

Esma holding her brother
UNICEF/Albania/Olsi Beci
Esma holds her little brother Ermal, at the child-friendly space.

“When I grow up, I want to become a painter or an architect, so that I can build stable homes for my little brother, sisters and me.”

Esma Nuro

The toll from the 26 November earthquake, and the aftershocks that followed, has been heavy. It is currently estimated that 48 people were killed and around 658 injured. UNICEF continues to support the Government of Albania’s disaster response. The focus has been on the emotional stability of the children who experienced the earthquake, restoring their sense of safety and normalcy. More than 100 children are currently receiving the attention of psychologists and are engaged in organized play-activities – singing, drawing, storytelling sessions – with UNICEF support.

“We are working around the clock to make the children feel safe again and give them a ray of hope,” says Julinda Vokopola, a social worker from NISMA, a UNICEF NGO partner. She says that on some days, she has seen parents join their children’s activities. “The adults are seeking some kind of relief as well.” 

Esma says that she enjoys the activities in the children’s area, especially when she gets to draw. In school, she would get especially good grades in Arts. “When I grow up, I want to become a painter or an architect, so that I can build stable homes for my little brother, sisters and me.”  She flashes a smile.

Her mother does not know yet when the situation will be safe enough for them to go back to the village, and for the children to go back to school.  There is still the risk of continued aftershocks. “What matters right now,” Ariana says, “is that we are all together and the children are safe.”