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Empowering earthquake affected communities

UNICEF Rwanda/2011
© UNICEF Rwanda/2011
P6 pupils at Sainte Augustin de Giheke school, in Rusizi, in their new classroom.

By Jenny Clover

Rusizi District, Rwanda, October 2011: It was just after 9am on a Sunday morning three years ago that a devastating earthquake ripped through two of Rwanda’s south-westerly districts, injuring 464 and killing 29, most of whom were praying in church at the time.

The communities of Rusizi and Nyamasheke districts, which are just across Lake Kivu from the Democratic Republic of Congo, were badly affected by the earthquake. Across the two districts, 21 schools and three health centres were destroyed or badly damaged. A total of 20,000 children suddenly found themselves unable to attend school.

After an emergency appeal launched by UNICEF, the Government of Japan donated $7.5million to not only to rebuild the damaged infrastructure, but to “build it back better”. Today, as UNICEF’s reconstruction and improvement project nears its end, the area has been transformed.

Across the two districts a total of 25 schools have been rebuilt, and 200 classrooms, 21 new offices for head teachers and 49 new blocks of toilets have been constructed. A total of 34 water tanks have been installed at schools. All rebuilt schools now adhere to Child Friendly Schools standards (promoted by UNICEF and adopted by Rwanda’s Government), meaning they take a more holistic and child-centred approach to education. In addition, three health centres have been rehabilitated and 500 new public toilets have been constructed across the districts.

This progress is obvious at Sainte Augustin de Giheke School in Rusizi, which was badly hit by the earthquake. UNICEF built a temporary school of tents so classes could continue, while work began on rebuilding the school. Now it boasts new buildings including six classrooms, an administration block, three blocks of latrines, five water tanks and a playground.

UNICEF Rwanda/2011
© UNICEF Rwanda/2011
Vice Mayor of Rusizi, Marcel Habyarimana

Head teacher Marcelline Mumpundu, explains the progress: “We were very badly affected by the earthquake and many of our buildings were destroyed. We had to spend three years teaching from tents. 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.”

Vice Mayor of Rusizi, Marcel Habyarimana, agrees: “Even before 2008 we didn’t have enough classrooms in our schools, so when the earthquake happened it was really devastating for the district. 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.”

Just as important as the rebuilding of infrastructure is the social and cultural changes that have been brought about in the communities. As part of the wider rebuilding project, a One Stop Centre against gender based violence was set up in Rusizi in September 2010. It has so far received 203 cases of violence, including of 112 children. Survivors are given holistic care, including medical treatment, forensic interviews and psychological support.

And young people and children have benefitted in other ways. For instance, an assessment carried out by UNICEF in 2008 showed that young people in the south-west region were not sensitised to the issue of HIV. In response to this, UNICEF helped establish the Rusizi Child Friendly Centre and Library in May 2010. This Centre receives around 143 children aged 7-18 coming every weekend. They have access to games, toys and books and take part in regular group discussions and workshops on topics like sexual health, life-skills and HIV. Children also produce a weekly radio programme which goes out to the local community, discussing issues like child protection, drugs and HIV. A similar centre was built in Nyamasheke.

And UNICEF also helped form the Rusizi Youth Network to empower young people by teaching about their rights. Today, the network has 30 different associations and cooperatives, with more than 1,000 members conducting peer-to-peer activities.

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



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