August 28, 2020

First an Earthquake, Then Lockdown

Stay-at-home orders during the COVID-19 pandemic have posed hardships for people around the world. But in Albania, the misery was compounded because many people had no homes to stay in.

An earthquake that struck the country in November 2019 killed 51 people, injured about 3,000 more, and destroyed numerous buildings, leaving thousands of families without shelter. When the nationwide pandemic lockdown began in March 2020, many of these people were living in tents or shipping containers because their homes were still unsafe and uninhabitable.

One of the hardest-hit areas was the Kruja region, just north of Albania’s capital city, Tirana. It was here that the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) focused its efforts during the pandemic, supporting families who were still reeling from the effects of the earthquake.

“These have been difficult months because the communities we work with were found outside living in tents without proper infrastructure and lacking basic living conditions,” said Kristi Qendro, program director for ADRA in Albania. “ADRA initiated its intervention right after the earthquake in November 2019 and is still working to support families during the COVID-19 pandemic with food and hygiene packages, individual and group counseling, online psychosocial support, and supplementary classes for children at risk of dropping out of school.”

Assisting the Most Vulnerable

In Albania, ADRA has been implementing educational projects in the affected regions for more than 10 years, but its efforts have intensified during this dual crisis. Immediately after the earthquake, ADRA provided emergency supplies to more than 100 families. The aid included tents and other shelter materials, stoves, washing machines, portable toilets, showers, solar water heaters, hygiene kits, and hot meals. In addition, approximately 3,500 children and adults received psychosocial support through individual counseling sessions, group therapy sessions, excursions, and supplementary classes.

“Our intervention specifically targeted the needs of the Roma and Egyptian minorities because these communities are even further marginalized,” said Altin Rexhepi, executive director of ADRA in Albania. “In spite of political rhetoric, providing the Roma and Egyptian communities with humanitarian aid is not considered a priority of the government and state institutions.”

When the pandemic brought additional deprivations, ADRA secured funding to supply 40 Roma and Egyptian families with food packages and hygiene supplies for two months. Thirty more families in the villages of Thumane and Bubq received hygiene materials during this time.

Caring for Troubled Souls

During the pandemic, the need for psychological support deepened, yet the avenues to offer it became limited. In cooperation with the Seventh-day Adventist Church, ADRA in Albania launched a nationwide phone counseling hotline to assist individuals with mental health needs. Callers could speak with ADRA’s staff psychologists and social workers for personal counseling, while three Seventh-day Adventist pastors were available for those who expressed a spiritual interest.

“We publicized the ADRA helpline through our official website, Facebook, and Instagram. Also, the church spread the news among its members,” Qendro said.

Ten college-student volunteers were assigned to call people who had previously received help from ADRA to find out their needs, both physical and emotional, and offer support. These conversations allowed ADRA workers to uncover developing problems such as child abuse and help the clients deal constructively with them.

Providing Educational Opportunities

Helping children from low-income families obtain a high-quality education is a top priority for ADRA in Albania. Low-income students were especially affected when schools closed during the pandemic. In collaboration with school staff in the Tirana region, ADRA identified children at risk of dropping out of school and provided supplementary instruction to better understand their online classes. ADRA worked with a teacher to create explanatory videos and shared the explained video lessons with the children via a WhatsApp group.

In July 2020, ADRA’s Community Center in the village of Bubq was reopened, and a new Community Center was established in the village of Borizane. The community centers offer classes, group counseling sessions, and recreational activities for children, teens, and adults. As the risks from COVID-19 continue, the centers educate the public on proper protective measures to combat the virus and encourage residents to care for their physical and mental health. ADRA’s community centers provide a place of cheer and comfort for individuals hurting from their losses in the earthquake and pandemic.

A Family Finds Hope

Through all of these projects, ADRA is sharing hope with people such as Ermal,* who lives with his aging parents, his wife, and their three children in Bubq. After the earthquake damaged their home, ADRA gave them clothes, blankets, heaters, and other supplies they needed to survive the winter living in a tent.

As ADRA workers provided psychological support for the family in the aftermath of the earthquake, they recognized that Ermal suffered from depression and other mental health problems, although he would have never admitted it. Ermal was referred to a psychologist for treatment, while his wife benefitted from group therapy at ADRA’s community center in Bubq. Two of their daughters, ages 10 and 16, came to the center for positive, fun activities such as crafts and games that took their minds off the troubles around them. During the COVID-19 shutdown, ADRA offered emotional and spiritual support to the entire family by conducting online consultations on how to cope with the pandemic.

Now that Ermal and his family have completed the necessary documents to rebuild their home, they are looking to the future with greater optimism. ADRA continues to support Albanian communities as they work to recover from a double disaster. 

ADRA’s COVID-19 response in Albania is part of its worldwide effort to alleviate the suffering caused by the pandemic. As the global humanitarian arm of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, ADRA is assisting approximately 2.7 million families in more than 70 countries during the pandemic. ADRA’s emergency relief activities include distributing food, hygiene products, and cash vouchers to people in need, as well as training frontline workers and providing medical supplies to hospitals serving vulnerable communities.

* Name has been changed for privacy.

The original version of this story was posted by ADRA International.

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