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“Back home, back to hope” - Supporting children and families affected by the earthquake in Albania

2020-12-24

For the second year in a row, Christmas and New Year will be celebrated differently by hundreds of Albanian families affected by the earthquake of 26 November 2019.

"Finally, my children will celebrate like their friends. I will also buy them some small gifts. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!", said Gazmend from Xhafzotaj in Durrës, after receiving coupons from Terre des hommes (Tdh) for each member of his family to spend on food, clothing, appliances, and other needs.

The 6.3 magnitude earthquake shook the lives of thousands of children and families – with Durres, Kurbin and Lezha amongst the most affected regions. Even today, more than a year after, the consequences are still visible, and hundreds of families without a roof over their head are still struggling economically.

Diola, Tdh psychologist in Durres, has been in regular contact with all the families in this area and she says that their socio-economic and psychological condition is still aggravated due to the lack of a safe shelter and poor households.

A retrospective of the first months after the earthquake

Since the first day after the earthquake, Tdh was on the ground distributing hundreds of blankets and hygiene products and providing first-aid psychosocial support to the affected children and families to help them overcome the shock, anxiety, and trauma.

Then, we created child-friendly spaces in the hotels where hundreds of families were sheltered in Shëngjin and Durrës. Children, young people, and parents were helped to fulfil some of the vital needs, engaged in psychosocial activities, and received counselling and support for stress management.

Throughout this time, Tdh was part of the Coordination Meetings at national and international level to assist interventions for child protection, sheltering and direct assistance for the affected families. Once the needs assessment was done in cooperation with the municipalities and local partners, Tdh started helping the recovery of the lives of the most vulnerable families. Funded by Dorcas Aid International Albania, we ensured that after leaving the hotels:

  • Ten families were provided with coupons of 15,000 Lek (about 120 EUR) per family member to secure food and meet their vital needs;
  • 45 families were provided with home furniture, appliances, mattresses, and blankets that were lacking in the places they were accommodated after leaving the hotels;
  • All the children in these families benefited from didactic and recreational materials and activities, aiming to improve their education and psychosocial well-being;
  • Psychosocial activities and counselling for parents and children continued to be provided by our staff through online platforms.

 

What are we doing now?

Since December 2019, thanks to the financial support of the City of Zurich through the "Back home, back to hope!" project, we have intensified our interventions in Durres, Lezha and Kurbin, including new rural areas. After identifying the affected families in each administrative unit based on their home damage and other difficulties assessed by our staff in cooperation with municipalities and local authorities, each family has been supported through:

  • Regular family visits by our social workers and psychologists.
  • Coupons worth 5,500 Lek (45 EUR) for each family member;
  • Psychosocial and life skills activities for children;
  • Psychological counselling for parents and children.

Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our work had to be reconceptualised. No group activities have been organised and counselling has been provided over the phone. However, for Dorjan, our social worker in Lezha, this was not a problem: "Due to the pandemic, we were forced to communicate with the families mostly by phone, but their cooperation has never been lacking. Although many of the families staying in the tents were tired of the visits and had very little expectation, we always felt very welcome. The most rewarding part of my work has been the happiness and the gratitude of the families when we distributed the coupons". 

So far, 460 persons in Lezha and 232 in Durres received coupons worth 5,500 Lek for each family member, with the opportunity to spend them on food items, household appliances, clothing and other. This support will continue until the end of January, by that time we aim to provide coupons to 1050 individuals from the municipalities of Lezha, Kurbin and Durres.

Angjeline from Sheher village in Lezha was incredibly grateful when she received the coupons for herself and her family at the beginning of December: "Thank you very much. I’m so happy that we can spend these holidays with the table unlike other times, we will have it full."

 

What does the future look like?

The work to support the families affected by the earthquake will continue. Enkelejda Kallciu, Country Director of Terre des hommes in Albania, said: "Considering the additional difficulties that these families had due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we thought to approach them through mobile services. The "Mobile Caravan" will respond to the needs of children, families and communities located in remote areas; providing ongoing psycho-social support and access to services through a range of projects that Tdh will implement in the affected areas."

To help Albanian families to cope with the aftermath of the fatal earthquake, Tdh is committed to continue the cooperation with the respective Municipalities, Directorates of Social Service, administrative units and all the actors that play a role in rebuilding the lives of the affected children and families. In addition, housing for affected families and long-term solutions to their situation remain key issues and priorities for Albanian institutions at the national and local levels.