|© UNICEF Indonesia/2009/ Djuhari|
|Cici Yuhendri (left) meets her school friends days after a massive earthquake destroyed her home in Pariaman, West Sumatra. Returning to school has enabled her to find comfort and support|
By Lely Djuhari
PARIAMAN, Indonesia, 29 October, 2009 – It was the sudden, eerie stillness at her family’s small paddy field that gave Cici Yuhendri, age 11, an impending sense of catastrophe. The usual cacophony of the birds disappeared minutes before an earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter-scale devastated her home in Indonesia’s West Sumatra Province.
“The earth beneath me shook from side to side,” she recalled. “Then, it jolted up and down; my knees buckled and all I could do was to collapse and whisper my prayers.”
Cici dropped her stick, which she used for shooing away the birds feasting on the harvest-ready rice plants. She fell to the ground and clung to a clump of golden yellow stalks.
When the quake subsided she called out to her older sister and raced back to their home – to their dismay, it had been levelled. Her mother and father, however, were safe. Her baby brother spent the next few nights refusing to leave his mother’s arms.
Less than a week after the earthquake, Cici rejoined her friends at the local junior high school where now they are able to share experiences and comfort each other. Many children have expressed their fears for the future—of more earthquakes, more building collapses and the inability to rebuild their lives.
To assist children in their recovery UNICEF and the Department of Social Affairs that has set up a joint Child Protection secretariat.
“Children are resilient. With the right support from their families and communities, it is amazing how they can cope,” said UNICEF Representative in Indonesia Angela Kearney.
Intensive training is being provided to teachers and social workers on how to recognize psychosocial needs and provide support.
|© UNICEF Indonesia/2009/ Djuhari|
|Children gather around a new school room being built in Pariaman, West Sumatra. Enabling children to return quickly to class after the 30 September earthquake has allowed students to find comfort and support amongst friends and teachers.|
According to official figures from the government’s National Disaster Management Agency, more than a thousand people died following the 30 September earthquake. But an important aspect of work now is to support those who survived.
Many children have lost parents or have been taken into the care of relatives, friends and neighbours. Others are known to have left the area after the quake. However, the government estimates that more than one million people were affected by the earthquake, of which one-third are believed to be children. Helping them live through the coming weeks and months is a priority for UNICEF.
“My teachers were very kind and told me not to worry. Without them, I wouldn’t have come back to school. They are very supportive and told us to talk to our friends as much as we want; about anything,” Cici said.
“My mathematics homework was just lying there in the dark last night. This stuff about the mean, modus and averages used to be so easy but now it is just flying about in my head.”
Apart from the social worker and teacher networks, UNICEF is also supporting an Indonesian faith-based foundation, Muhammadiyah, with tents, educational toys, books and games. Nine children’s centres have already been established in Pariaman and three other districts affected by the quake.
In the child-friendly spaces, children have the opportunity to play games, sing, dance and painting, all of which will help them to reduce feelings of isolation. The centres’ activities are also designed to help trained workers to identify those children showing signs of more serious distress, so that they can be provided with more specific support.
UNICEF has also supported the Ministry of Social Affairs to undertake a rapid assessment of broader child protection concerns in Padang City, Pariaman City and Pariaman District, which found that there is currently no evidence of family separation, movement of children to other locations or trafficking. That is certainly good news, but the task of helping children rebuild their lives after the West Sumatra earthquake remains at the forefront of UNICEF’s activities.