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Goodwill Ambassador Yvonne Chaka Chaka visits earthquake-affected Rwanda

UNICEF Image: Goodwill Ambassador Yvonne Chaka Chaka
© UNICEF Rwanda/2008
Goodwill Ambassador Yvonne Chaka Chaka with children at the Rubingo Child-Friendly School, south of Kigali. UNICEF plans to 'build back better' for 20 earthquake-damaged schools in Rwanda.

KIGALI, Rwanda, 5 March 2008 – “I had a smile on my face and tears in my eyes,” said UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador for Eastern and Southern Africa Yvonne Chaka Chaka, describing how it felt to see UNICEF tents standing near crumbled school walls in southwest Rwanda.  

Last week, the South African superstar joined First Lady of Rwanda Jeanette Kagame as well as UNICEF Rwanda Representative Dr. Joseph Foumbi and government officials to tour the damage from the 3 February earthquake. The tour was organized by UNICEF and their partner the Imbuto Foundation, which is Ms. Kagame's advocacy organization.

Ms. Chaka Chaka, whose musical career spans more than two decades, has visited Rwanda several times before.  Last year, she sang before a crowd of 30,000 during Kigali’s centenary celebration.

Effects of the earthquake

Last month's earthquake killed 39 people in Rwanda. More than 600 people were initially treated for injuries – 367 of them for psychological trauma. About 80 per cent of the latter are women and children.

The tremors also damaged a hospital, several health centres, more than 1,200 homes, 20 primary schools and 4 secondary schools. 

The effects of the destruction are severe, since Rwanda is one of the poorest countries in the world and much of the population still lives with post-traumatic stress from the 1994 genocide.

Rapid response

Praising Rwanda's rapid response, UNICEF's Dr. Foumbi noted that government personnel had arrived first on the scene of this natural disaster, and the authorities continue to be very proactive with relief efforts.

UNICEF Image: Goodwill Ambassador Yvonne Chaka Chaka
© UNICEF Rwanda/2008
Yvonne Chaka Chaka addresses earthquake-affected residents of Rusizi, Rwanda.

The UN and partners, including the Rwandan Red Cross, responded within 24 hours of the quake. UNICEF provided medical supplies and tents, as well as essential supplies for families and educational and recreational materials for children. UNICEF has also provided temporary sanitation and water facilities.

Returning to school

Some of the 30,000 children who missed school in the aftermath of the earthquake have now returned to class.

Ms. Chaka Chaka toured the remains of the Shangi Primary School, which served 1,559 pupils. “The disaster happened but people don’t give up,” she said at a press conference the following day. 

“I think the best thing I saw were those tents and the temporary classrooms," Ms. Chaka Chaka added. "It was hot under that plastic. But kids were sitting there, and teaching was going on.”

Assistance needed

Full recovery may take many millions of dollars. For its part, UNICEF is seeking at least $6 million to reconstruct 20 damaged schools, rebuild homes and infrastructure and provide psychosocial support.

“Our aim,” said Mr. Foumbi, “is to go beyond rebuilding what was there, to improve standards in each of these areas.”

UNICEF will focus on creating child-friendly schools with walls and roofs designed to withstand earthquakes or other natural disasters.

A word of appreciation

The First Lady affirmed the government's commitment to rebuilding the schools and spoke on behalf of children who had lost parents in the earthquake. 

“UNICEF helps a lot in this country,” Ms. Kagame said to the community assembled on Nkombo Island. “Help me to thank UNICEF, particularly for the idea of visiting the area hit by the earthquake and for having brought our sister Yvonne Chaka Chaka. 

“Our ancestors used to say, a real friend is one who comes at a difficult moment.”



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