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A look inside a school damaged by L'Aquila's earthquake

The earthquake that struck L'Aquila last April destroyed many of the city's schools. For the last in our series Hunger to Learn, Duncan Kennedy has visited the Italian city to hear why pupils there no longer take education for granted.

In L'Aquila, the school-run is more of a school dash.

People here are still frightened buildings will come down, so they rush past some structures left teetering by April's earthquake.

Jacapo's old classroom
Three pupils from Jacapo's school died in the earthquake

"I still remember it like it was yesterday," says 18-year-old Jacapo Purificati. "There was this huge bang and we lost everything."

Jacapo survived the devastating shaking his city endured for 30 life-changing seconds. Around 300 other people did not.

The city paid another price too. Much of its education system came to a halt.

Jacapo's centrally located school was one of the oldest buildings here. It is now barely standing.

Pupil-led move

This is not the first time the school has been wrecked by the earth's movements.

Another earthquake, in 1703, also destroyed it.

They rebuilt it then, and nurtured generations of children over the following 300 years.

Then came April's disaster.

"This was my desk," says Jacapo, returning to the school for the first time since, having been given special permission by the authorities to go back into the worst-hit zone.

Jacapo Purificati talks about his experience now he has returned to L'Aquila

For a few moments, Jacapo cannot speak as he takes in the scene of destruction.

"It's terrible," he whispers. "It makes me shiver."

Around us are the remains of classrooms. Walls have holes, ceilings now cover the floors. An English language dictionary lies on a table, smothered in dust.

I ask Jacapo if, seeing all this, he now appreciated his education more.

"Before, I did take it for granted," he says. "To me it was just routine, a habit."

Three pupils from the school died in the earthquake.

But for the 1,200 other students and their teachers who survived, there was an awful decision to make. To stay and try to rebuild, or to start again.

It quickly became apparent that rebuilding might take months, maybe years, possibly never.

So the search began for a new school.

Not wanting to miss any more teaching than was necessary, they started by moving into prefabricated containers in the car park of another school.

That was while their new, permanent home was made ready.

They found a part-used school on the outskirts of the city.

The pupils of that school agreed to move elsewhere, so work could start on turning it into a proper secondary school.

"The strength to do this came from the pupils," says head teacher Angelo Mancini.

"Perhaps the adults were more afraid than the children. But the pupils have very strong feelings for this city, its culture and its history and it's they who've allowed this miracle to happen," he says.

The new school may not have the history or character of the 18th Century original, but it is now functioning - and disruption to education has been contained to weeks not months.

"It is so good to be back in school," says Jacapo. "I have my friends and I can learn again."

Partly-destroyed house in L'Aquila
Many of L'Aquila's historic buildings were destroyed by the earthquake

For Jacapo, who combines his studies with singing in a rock band, the vacuum of being school-less has been filled.

"In the days after the earthquake, all I would do is sleep, eat and watch television," he tells me.

"I became directionless. Returning to school has given meaning back to my life."

We left Jacapo with his head deep in books on Greek mythology.

Learning was never boring, or a chore, for this ambitious, bright teenager.

Having had it taken away, temporarily, by forces beyond his control, it has now become even more cherished.



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