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Education transforms lives: closing the school infrastructure divide after the Huara earthquake in Northern Chile

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  • More than 1,100 local residents, including students, relatives and education professionals, have benefited from infrastructure investment for the schools of Huara district.
  • These projects reaffirm that quality education that counts even more in the wake of a disaster.

25.10.2016 -Huara is a district located between the Andean highlands and the Pacific coast in Northern Chile, in Tarapacá Region. Comprising 28 towns and 6 villages set in a rugged landscape, locals make a living mainly from family agriculture wherever water is to be found amongst the gullies. Schools are at the core of these lonely communities, but their structure was weakened by the earthquake of 1 April 2014, which affected Northern Chile and Southern Peru.

The event damaged public school infrastructure, which had already been degraded by recent seismic events – common occurrences in this part of the world. In view of the community’s obvious needs, Huara’s Municipal Government, the Chilean Ministry of Education and UNESCO joined forces and drew up an action plan for 2015 and 2016, including the maintenance, expansion and improvement of the district’s 12 public schools, which serve a total of 405 students, with an investment of 275 million Chilean pesos (approximately US$ 416,000).

To implement the changes, the communities that will benefit from this public investment helped to detect immediate needs. Not only were the most significant schools improved, redesigning spaces, updating infrastructure and study materials; but smaller rural schools, even those with a single teacher, were also covered, with emphasis placed on energy autonomy for the more remote educational establishments that lacked electricity.

Thus, the school in the Tarapacá community was rebuilt; in Huara, the largest town in the region, the zone’s only secondary school was improved and expanded, benefiting students who travel for many hours from their homes to receive an education. In communities such as Pachica and Sibaya, schools that serve between 10 and 50 students were renovated, and improvements were also made in the school at Huaviña, which has just one student and one teacher. The remote and rural communities of Sotoca and Jaiña implemented projects that included energy autonomy.

The school in Pisagua was a special case. Located on the Pacific coast, the town suffered heavy damage in the earthquake, and its school was hit particularly hard. With growing demand for enrolment that the current infrastructure cannot cover, the education establishment’s development plan includes expansion and substantial improvements, incorporating an architectural perspective in line with its setting. Given its scope, the project is planned in four stages, with the local authorities fully involved.

The establishment also presents an additional opportunity, as it needs to be almost fully rebuilt, takng into account current and future demand for enrolment. The architectural project also incorporates significant cultural elements for the local community, such as a circle in the yard symbolizing Mother Earth, a line towards the solar north symbolizsing Father Sun, and recognition of Chile’s location in the continent and on the planet.

Carlos Silva Riquelme, the Mayor of Huara, expresses his satisfaction with the project “(…) we need for our children and our families to get involved in education because we are not thinking only about our students. We are thinking about schools with open doors, where the community can participate and where teachers are committed, improving quality of life for our children, our families, but also thinking about the future.”

Jorge Sequeira, Director of the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Education in Latin America and the Caribbean, stresses the importance of this task, conducted together with local and national government partners: “Thanks to the work done, progress has been made not only in mitigating the school communities’ urgent needs relating to infrastructure. With these projects, we are also advancing in the valuation of public education as a bastion of support and opportunities for all people, as a place where we come together at times of joy and during difficulties, where people can go in the event of a disaster and from which the community rebuilds itself and becomes stronger.”

Further information

Poster: A new school for Pisagua’s children, now and for the future
Education Ministry (Chile)
UNESCO and Sustainable Development Goals
Leading the Global Education 2030 Agenda

The United Nations Member States have recently adopted a new global agenda to meet the so-called Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDG 4 refers to education, establishing the goal to “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”

SDG 4’s Target 8 sets a specific objective: “Build and upgrade education facilities that are child-disability- and gender-sensitive and provide safe, nonviolent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all”; one way to achieve this is by distributing resources equitably between advantaged and disadvantaged schools. Here, the Ministry of Education, UNESCO and the Municipal Government of Huara have implemented the project “Existing infrastructure divides in public education provision”.