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At a glance: Indonesia

On Indonesia’s Nias Island, UNICEF helps rebuild the lives of quake-affected children

© UNICEF Indonesia/2006/Stechert
A little girl on Indonesia’s Nias Island watches attentively as child centre volunteers teach the children a new song.
By Anna Stechert

GUNUNGSITOLI, Indonesia, 10 May 2006 – Well over a year since a violent earthquake shook the island of Nias in Indonesia, killing 800 people and destroying 90 per cent of the infrastructure, UNICEF continues to offer vital protection for children.

Located northwest of Sumatra, Nias was only minimally affected by the December 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean – but an earthquake that struck the island on 28 March 2005 measured 8.7 on the Richter scale and caused major damage.

UNICEF was in place to coordinate the emergency relief efforts immediately after the quake. Now the organization is focusing on long-term projects.

Child centres provide security

“Many children are separated from their families for economic or educational reasons,” says UNICEF Assistant Child Protection Officer Patrick Halton. “Institutionalization is common as a means to alleviate the financial burden. UNICEF is also aware that children are frequently taken out of Nias by non-relatives, and they may lose contact with their families and be vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.”

To help protect vulnerable children, UNICEF is working with Indonesian legislators to strengthen current child-protection laws, as well as running three child centres in Nias. The centres provide education, recreational activities and psycho-social support in a safe environment for about 800 children.

“After the earthquake, I was sleeping in the children’s centre tent in Gunung Sitoli with some other street children,” says Basra, a 12-year-old quake survivor. “Then I met a man who was working for the centre and he invited me to join the activities. I like everything about the children’s centre! They helped me to go to school. Now I go every day. I feel relaxed with all the staff. I hope the children’s centre can help me find a solution for my future.”

Along with singing, dancing, football and other organized fun, volunteers at the centres also help children with their schoolwork and emotional problems.

© UNICEF Indonesia/2006/Stechert
On the way to a UNICEF child centre on Nias Island, dozens of children come running to join in the activities.

“The children are very sensitive. If we have to postpone any activity, the children think we are angry with them. We have to build their confidence,” says volunteer Astriyana Telaumbanua, who works in the Pusaka at Tabitha camp for families who lost their homes in the earthquake.

Construction of permanent schools

The centres are just one example of UNICEF’s post-earthquake work in Nias. Other activities have included:

  • A polio immunization campaign that reached more than 91 per cent of children
  • Provision of 26,500 bednets to prevent malaria, with more than 20,000 still to be distributed
  • Key support for safe water and sanitation programmes.

In addition, a comprehensive nutrition campaign is about to begin. It will include the treatment of severe malnutrition, de-worming of schoolchildren and those under the age of five, and training on the feeding of infants and young children.

Mr. Halton says UNICEF is now exploring ways to introduce a sustainable livelihoods programme in South Nias with the aim of reducing child labour and creating an environment where children can enjoy their right to education and play.

One of the priorities for the remainder of this year will be the construction of 45 new permanent, child-friendly and earthquake-resistant schools. The process of site surveying and design of the first schools is already under way.

“This progressive step is an example of UNICEF’s determination, not only to help communities back on their feet but also to ‘build back better’ in terms of services for children,” explains Mr. Halton.

Rachel Bonham Carter contributed to this story.



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