Making heroes out of children with a new emergency preparedness program
By Lydia Lubon
KUALA MUDA KEDAH, Malaysia, 1 September 2006 – “I was watching TV when my neighbour came to my house to tell me to look at this long white line in the sea. When I saw the giant waves in the distance I thought to myself, how beautiful! I had never seen anything like it before. But as I stood watching the wave, I saw boats capsizing in the distance. I had no idea what was happening until a fisherman shouted at me to run, because the wave was coming towards us,” recalled 13-year old Siti of her terrifying brush with death.
Like so many other villagers in Kuala Muda Kedah, Siti had never heard the word “tsunami” before that day in December 2004. Unsure of exactly what was happening, the courageous young girl, who comes from a single parent household, helped her ailing mother and younger brother to safety.
Most villages around the Indian Ocean affected by this disaster were coastal fishing communities. Despite their relatively close ties to the sea, little was known about the killer waves or how to react in the face of this type of disaster.
Practical guidelines for survival
It was this lack of awareness that prompted Malaysia’s Ministry of Education and UNICEF to launch the Emergency Preparedness Program in local schools. The program offers practical guidelines to help students and teachers survive disasters such as flash floods, drought, haze, earthquakes and landslides, all of which occur yearly in Malaysia.
Schools are an ideal setting to offer protection, education and awareness for children. Early warning systems are crucial. So, too, is a well-informed community ready to protect itself when a disaster strikes.
“All the sophisticated technology won’t matter if we don’t reach real communities and people,” said UNICEF Representative to Malaysia, Gaye Phillips. “Satellites, buoys, data networks will make us safer, but we must invest in the training, the institution-building and awareness on the ground. People must understand how to prepare and respond to a disaster, as well as how to deal with the aftermath. What better place to start this education than at schools.”
Children as heroes
Recently, officials from the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Defense, Royal Malaysian Police, Fire & Rescue Services Department, and humanitarian relief organisations met for a three-day workshop on implementing emergency preparedness.
At the end of the workshop, Ms. Phillips and Director-General of the Ministry of Education, Dato’ Dr. Hj Ahamad bin Sipon officially launched the program in schools at the Kuala Muda Kedah Secondary School.
“In Thailand, children as young as 10-years old were heroes during the 2004 tsunami because they knew the early warning signs of a tsunami, and were able to alert beach goers around them in time. Lives were saved, including theirs. This is what we want to give to our children in Malaysia, the power to make informed decisions,” said Dato’ Dr. Hj. Ahamad.
1 September 2006:
UNICEF Representative in Malaysia Gaye Phillips discusses the tsunami recovery process in Malaysia.
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