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Tsunami disaster – countries in crisis

Back to school in Banda Aceh

© UNICEF Indonesia/2005/Susanto
Elementary school students in Banda Aceh eagerly receive UNICEF supplied school-in-the-box and recreational kits on their first day at school since the tsunami hit.

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia, 26 January 2005 - It is quarter to eight in the morning at SDN 3 Primary School in central Banda Aceh. A young girl, dressed in her school uniform of a long red skirt and crisp white shirt, slips off the front of her dad’s motorbike and walks through the entrance. Another mother arrives holding the hand of her young daughter, who is dressed in a blue tracksuit. Her uniform was lost along with the rest of their household belongings, but she is anxious to begin school. The trickle continues until about fifty or so children are gathered. It is their first day of school exactly one month after the tsunami hit.

The classrooms of their school had been used as a relief camp for displaced people. Just the day before, after the people left, a large yellow truck loaded with workers arrived to clean and sweep the grounds before the first day of school.

Then a UNICEF truck arrived bearing school supplies. Every school still functioning in the city of Banda Aceh will receive four school-in-a-box kits to service 80 children each and two recreational kits for sports and play activities. The schools of approximately 177,000 children have been destroyed.

UNICEF has mobilized a massive logistical network to get supplies to schools across Aceh. By boat, truck and air – and sometimes by hand -- UNICEF is shipping enough school-in-a-boxes for 560,000 children.

The supplies are the start of a back-to-learning campaign UNICEF will work on with the Ministry of Education and other partners to help get every child back into learning in a safe environment.

“UNICEF has welcomed the Government of Indonesia’s decision to reopen schools,” said UNICEF Representative for Indonesia Gianfranco Rotigliano before the reopening. “This is a very important step towards the recovery of children and their communities.”

Although no one doubts that the challenges are immense, experience has demonstrated that getting children back into a safe learning environment is an important part of the healing process.

“From our global experience, we know that it’s the best way to recover from natural disasters and tragedies: wars, tsunamis, earthquakes. It’s a way for children to get back to their routine, to normalcy,” says Sarah Lendon, UNICEF Indonesia’s Emergency Education Coordinator.

Twelve-year old Miranda Rizakya’s school was destroyed but she has enrolled in the neighboring school SN 28.  Although flood-damaged and still littered with some debris, the school is preparing for the first day of class.

“I am very happy to be going back to school”, Miranda says with a smile, her head covered in a traditional white head scarf. She still does not know about the whereabouts of her two best friends.

Vice-Principal of SN 28 Peciut Maigati returned to a heavily damaged school two weeks ago. She had not even begun the task of cleaning her own home, but she and several volunteers worked on the school. “We still have more cleaning up to do,” she explains, as she looks around at the barren, muddy playground that once was green and lush.

With the school principal missing, she has been forced into a leadership role and now trying to get the teachers back for classes and able to cope with the trauma they have experienced. More than 1,700 teachers in Aceh are estimated to be dead or missing.

To better understand the urgent needs at each individual school like SN 28, UNICEF in partnership with the Ministry of Education and other partners has just deployed a team of university students to do a Rapid Assessment of Learning Spaces (RALS). Going school-by-school, the team will look at pupil and teacher numbers, environmental and structural conditions at the schools, the availability of water and sanitation and the condition of infrastructure.





26 January 2005:
Steve Nettleton joins youngsters in Banda Aceh on their first day back at school one month after the tsunami struck.

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4 February 2005:
UN Radio reporter Sophie Boudre reports on UNICEF's "School-in-a-Box" program in Banda Aceh, Indonesia.

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