Tsunami disaster – countries in crisis

Indonesia: Rebuilding schools

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Indonesia/2005/McBride
SDN 96 elementary school in Banda Aceh will have to be demolished, due to earthquake damage. Classes will meet in temporary schools, until the UNICEF-supported reconstruction of the primary school system is complete.

By Rob McBride

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia, 21 June 2005 – Nine-year-old Sufrisa sits in the front row of her makeshift classroom – a tent standing on the tsunami-ravaged landscape of the Aceh coast, in northern Sumatra. Her personal tragedy sets her apart even from most of her classmates.

On that terrible morning in December when the wave came, Sufrisa saw her parents for the last time, as she perched on the hastily driven motorbike that took her and her elder brother and sister to safety ahead of the advancing waters.

“I can smile now and play with my friends,” she says. “But, yes, when I think about it, it still makes me cry.”

Not surprisingly, Sufrisa prefers to think happier thoughts. “I want to be a doctor when I grow up,” she says. “And my dream is to live in a big house with lots of friends and lots of fresh fruit.”

From 300 to 30 pupils attending

Spirited and bright, Sufrisa is one of the star pupils at Peukan Bada Elementary School. She is also one of its few surviving ones.

“Before the tsunami there were around 300 children going to the school,” says School Principal Fitriah Muhammad. “The number of children registered here now is 70. And only about 30 regularly attend.”

The story of the school illustrates Aceh’s suffering, and demonstrates the challenge in rebuilding its education system.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Indonesia/2005/McBride
Students at SDN 96 smile from a stair case.

“We’re hopeful the school will be rebuilt,” says Fitriah Muhammad. “It’s important for the children to have a permanent structure instead of an emergency tent. Not long ago there was a storm and the children felt very scared.”

To live in Aceh, it seems, is to have to confront fear. So close to the epicentre of the devastating earthquake and tsunami, it still experiences tremors, big and small, nearly every day – reminders of the potential for another catastrophe. And an inspection funded by UNICEF has discovered earthquake damage to some schools previously declared safe.

“That means they can crash at any moment if one big shock hits Aceh again,” says UNICEF’s Sayo Aoki. Further site surveys by UNICEF-contracted engineers are now being conducted at hundreds of other schools around in the province. If more schools are found to be unsafe, then their classes too will have to move to tents or temporary buildings.

Rebuilding the school system

Ms. Aoki is speaking from inside the now-empty classroom of elementary school SDN 96 in Banda Aceh – one of eight already found to be unsafe, and scheduled for demolition in an agreement reached with the Indonesian Education Department.

UNICEF is supporting construction of 200 temporary schools for 42,000 children living in the worst hit areas. The temporary schools will replace the tents currently being used as classrooms, providing a better environment for learning. The aim is to have as many of the temporary schools completed before the new school year begins.

Once the demolition of damaged school buildings is complete, UNICEF will join in the reconstruction of the entire primary school system in Aceh, building or repairing more than 500 permanent schools at a cost of nearly $100 million.

UNICEF Representative in Indonesia Gianfranco Rotigliano says the goal is not just to improve the education system. “We will also be involved in getting the system to be more sensitive to supporting children to get through such a tragedy.”

Back at Peukan Bada school, Sufrisa is making plans for a forthcoming trip to Germany as a guest of UNICEF, to share her experiences with school children there. She hopes to study in a real classroom once more when she returns.


 

 

Video

20 June 2005:
UNICEF correspondent Rob McBride reports on school reconstruction in Indonesia.

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