Farida’s thoughtful, soft-spoken manner suggests a maturity far beyond her twelve years. For a girl who recently lost her mother and two older sisters to the tsunami waves, she seems exceptionally well adjusted, speaking calmly about the surreal events that shattered and then transformed her life over the past year.
“Everything has changed for me,” she says wistfully. “My home is in a different place, and so is my school. My family is gone, other than my older brother, who works on the other side of town. I still get to see him about once a week.”
Farida is back at school now and studies for free at the Muhammadiyah junior high in Banda Aceh - one of about 200 temporary schools being established by UNICEF in tsunami-affected areas across Aceh. UNICEF is also in the process of rebuilding 500 permanent schools across the province.
Farida also received a new school bag, books, notebooks and magazines from UNICEF – part of a large-scale Aceh Back-to-School campaign conducted by the agency earlier this year.
“I’m generally happy being here now,” Farida says. “And there are many other children at school who lost family members in the tsunami, just like I did, so we often share our thoughts, and talk about what happened to us.”
Unfortunately, the school is on the opposite side of town from where Farida now lives. “I sometimes end up walking an hour each way to school, because public transport is expensive and can be very slow. With a shy, reluctant smile, she adds: “What I really need is a bicycle...”
Farida knows a thing or two about wandering. She narrowly escaped the deadly waves in December because she was studying at a friend’s house when the tsunami swept away much of her family’s coastal village of Lampulo. From January to May she lived with relatives in South Aceh before moving again to temporary living barracks in Bakoy, Banda Aceh. She joined the local UNICEF Children’s Center, and was ‘adopted’ by Saiful, one of the center’s counselors, who she says continues to look out for her.
Farida remains an active participant in the Bakoy Children’s Center activities, and attends every Sunday. “I take part in teen gatherings, Koran readings, arts and crafts activities, and even public speaking training,” she says enthusiastically. “I enjoy learning new things. Some day I hope to become a nurse.”
Although her life now has some semblance of a routine, Farida admits she still feels her loss acutely, every single day. “Tears often just come out. I keep remembering my family, my mother. Especially now, as we begin the holy month of Ramadan, which always used to be family time…”