Mennonite schools are returning to routines after earthquakes struck Albania in November and Puerto Rico in January.
Lezha Academic Center is located in one of three cities where the Albanian government declared a state of emergency after a 6.4-magnitude earthquake Nov. 26. More than 50 people were killed, thousands injured and buildings heavily damaged.
The school’s executive director, Klementina Shahini, was alone at home the morning of the earthquake.
“The sound of items rattling and falling, the shaking of the bed and all the house, the electricity off, the idea that the building was going to crash, everything together was so frightening,” she wrote afterward. “God was with me as I was going down the stairs, seven floors of stairs in darkness.
“I got out to see people getting in the cars and leaving the city, panicked and terrified.
“The earthquake lasted only 30 seconds, which seemed like 30 hours for me. [It was] the worst 30 seconds of my life.”
With 160 students in 12 grades, Lezha Academic Center is a member of Mennonite Education Agency’s Mennonite Schools Council. The school was closed and classes canceled so repairs could be made. Cracks appeared in surfaces throughout the building, in addition to water damage.
“For more than a month we had teams of construction people, electricians and plumbers working seven days a week with long hours to make the school ready for [students to return] Jan. 6,” wrote Shahini by email. “During this time our students and teachers were involved with helping people in shelters, people who had no place to stay because of the earthquake.
“We praised God for his protection, and we blessed the others by being there with them: feeding, playing with kids, organizing different programs, providing clothes and hygiene items.”
The days were eventful. A baby was born in the shelter. Aftershocks continued, and trauma counseling was provided for students, staff and other members of the community.
Because the school’s mission includes the vision to build connections between families, church and school, the earthquake has opened the possibility for Lezha Academic Center to consider new ways its mission could be strengthened. A planning meeting is coming in June to discuss future opportunities.
Though far from the epicenters of recent earthquakes in Puerto Rico, Academia Menonita Betania suspended classes as a precautionary measure. The MSC member was previously closed after sustaining damage from Hurricane Maria on Sept. 20, 2017.
Hundreds of earthquakes rocked the island since late December. The most powerful was 6.4-magnitude, the strongest to hit Puerto Rico in a century.
In the east-central part of the island, where Academia Menonita Betania is located, damage was minor. However, until a structural engineer certified the school to be safe, classes could not take place.
School board chair Alex Gonzalez Labrador said the last day of classes before Christmas break was Dec. 19, and students had been due to return Jan. 13.
“There is no visual damage to our buildings but some recommendations from the expert are possible, in order to make the school safer in the event of a bigger earthquake,” he said.
Students returned to classes Jan. 21.
MDS assisting Puerto Ricans
Mennonite Disaster Service is responding to Puerto Rico earthquakes with volunteers and supplies, support for partners and Mennonite churches, as well as funding for building materials.
MDS is also assisting in food and supply distribution, firming up house supports and securing local people to help train for and provide emotional support.
Puerto Rico’s southern coast has experienced more than 1,200 earthquakes since Dec. 28. The strongest hit the southwest coast on Jan. 7, followed by a 5.9-magnitude earthquake on Jan. 11.
MDS executive director Kevin King participated in damage assessment and joined congregants from six Mennonite churches distributing food and tarps to rural areas north of the epicenter.
MDS also sent an investigation team to Puerto Rico to assess earthquake damage and determine the need for recovery assistance. Churches, MDS teams and partners gathered Jan. 18-19, praying and worshiping together. Temblors keep rumbling, and residents are sleeping outside for fear of injury inside. — Mennonite Disaster Service