Five years on: rebuilding education in post-tsunami Banda Aceh
By Rob McBride
Banda Aceh, Indonesia, December 2209 - In the playground of the Muhamadiyah Elementary School 1 and 2 a game of rounders is underway. Waiting their turn to bat, classmates Hafidz and Taufik know they are among a lucky few.
The tsunami that ravaged parts of northern Indonesia in December 2004 claimed the lives of most of the other 300 pupils who were enrolled in school at the time. Now completely rebuilt, it is hard to believe that this school is at the centre of one of the worst hit parts of one of the worst affected territories around the Indian Ocean.
“I was with my friends when we saw this black water coming up from the river,” 10 year old Taufik tells us. “I got to the mosque where my mother found me and took me to the mountains.”
His story is typical of so many children here who survived the ordeal.
Now in his last year at this school, he has seen the population gradually expand to 190 students and is looking ahead to secondary school. For the school principal, Zahirah, this has been a five year mission which has seen her and her staff rebuild against almost impossible odds.
“We were determined to get the remaining children back into class quickly,” says Zahirah, knowing that most of her students had perished. “So we collected as many surviving children as we could from the displaced peoples’ camps, and placed them in temporary schools provided by UNICEF.”
In the immediate aftermath of the tsunami, getting children back into class was a crucial part of the recovery process. Gradually, the tented classrooms and temporary learning spaces started to give way to permanent structures and to date 346 earthquake resistant schools have been constructed by UNICEF and its partners.
Happy to be back in a permanent building, Hafidz does not have many fond memories of those makeshift classrooms. “Studying in the temporary school wasn’t nice,” he says. “But my classroom now is fully equipped.”
Taufik and Hafidz’s school was the first to be rebuilt. In its construction, as with all the other new schools, care has been taken to build back with better facilities and teaching methods than existed previously.
At Elementary School 34, the yard and corridors are thronged with children moving between classes. Overseeing them is its principal, Karmala. This is actually the 200th school to be re-built with support from UNICEF, and in doing so, the education authorities were able to realize a long-standing plan of merging three schools into one, with benefits for all.
“We’ve been able to standardize subjects,” says Karmala, “to create equality between children from very different backgrounds.”
At the end of class, it is a short walk for Hafidz from school to the small house where he lives with his brother and parents.
Indicating a line on the wall at chest level, he showed us how high the flood waters reached. Like many others, he was separated from his parents for several days, with neither knowing whether the other had survived.
Hafidz is simply grateful they lived through it, to be reunited while so any others did not. “I am very thankful that Allah would give me the chance to live,” he says, “while so many of my friends were killed.”