(ALBANIA) August 26, 2020 – Stay-at-home orders during the COVID-19 pandemic have posed hardships for people around the world. But in Albania, the misery was compounded by the fact that 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 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,” says 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
ADRA in Albania has been implementing educational projects in the affected regions for more than ten 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 and solar water heaters, along with 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,” says 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. ADRA in Albania, in cooperation with the Seventh-day Adventist Church, 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,” says Qendro.
Ten college-student volunteers were assigned to call people who had previously received hel