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Tsunami disaster – countries in crisis

Indonesia: For children, protection and a chance to play

© UNICEF Indonesia/2005/McBride
Erna Widowati, a UNICEF-trained policewoman at the Children’s Centre in Lambaro, watches over the children as they play. She is also searching for her own two children, lost in the tsunami.

By Rob McBride

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia, 21 June 2005 – Sitting close together in the open tent, the young boys rehearse the carefully choreographed movements that will accompany their song. They will be performing this piece at a forthcoming celebration, and they want it to be just right.

The event is evidence that life is slowly returning to normal for the children of Aceh, hit hard by the tsunami.

The boys are attending one of 21 Children’s Centres set up by UNICEF and its local partners in Indonesia’s worst-affected areas. The youngsters usually come for a few hours each day. The Centres offer thousands of children the chance to play and provide psychosocial support to help them recover from the trauma of the disaster.

Outside the tent stands one of the ‘tracing boards’, bearing the photographs of some of the approximately 1,000 children still hoping to locate their parents.

© UNICEF Indonesia/2005/McBride
This tracing board bears the photographs of some of the approximately 1,000 children still hoping to locate their parents.

Protecting children, and more

The Centre, located in Lambaro on the northern outskirts of Banda Aceh, is also the workplace for Erna Widowati, one of 20 policewomen trained by UNICEF in child protection. Erna lost her two children in the tsunami.

“It is my vocation to protect children as best I can,” she says.  “And of course at the same time I’m looking for my own children. If God is willing to re-unite us, then that is what I hope for."

Protecting children – vulnerable survivors of the tsunami – from possible exploitation by child traffickers was one of the original reasons for establishing the Children’s Centres. But UNICEF Child Protection Officer Seamus McRoibin says they have proven their value in other ways for aiding the long-term recovery effort.

“I think we actually underestimated the value of Children’s Centres. We envisaged them as a three-month intervention.” Mr. McRoibin says there are now plans for making the Children’s Centres a permanent part of Aceh’s communities.

Proof of progress

At a Children’s Centre outside Meulaboh on Sumatra’s battered west coast, scores of children gather daily to take part in songs and games.  Eleven-year-old Angga takes a turn at umpiring a tug-of-war. It is clear he is enjoying his chance to play, before having to return to the harsh reality of life in one of Aceh’s temporary camps.

Mr. McRoibin explains that conditions in the camps are crowded, with thirty people in one tent.  “So there is no space for kids to run around, to play, even to draw. We’ve been to places where there isn’t a Children’s Centre and you see the difference. You see sad faces.”

After his morning’s exertions, Angga returns home to the communal tent where his family occupies one small corner.  Despite experiencing some unpleasant flashbacks of the tragedy, he says he is a lot happier now, six months later.  

“I like going to the Centre because there are lots of volunteers there that I can discuss things with,” he says. “And when I grow up, I want to be a volunteer just like them.”

Taufik is one of the volunteers working at the Centre which Angga attends.  Taufik has noticed the profound change among the children there. “At the very beginning, the children were very quiet and now they’re more active and expressive,” he says.  “So that’s certainly a good sign.”

The musical group from the Children’s Centre in Lambaro are certainly living proof of the recovery. Several days after their rehearsal, they find themselves on stage performing for an audience of several hundred – a welcome entertainment for other children, and a chance for the performers to demonstrate how much joy they now have to share, six months after the tragedy.




20 June 2005:
UNICEF correspondent Rob McBride reports on how the Children’s Centres in Indonesia are helping the tsunami recovery process.

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