Hope in the Rubble

UNICEF was the first UN agency to transport 94 metric tonnes of essential emergency supplies through an airbridge from a neighbouring island of Borneo to the emergency area of Central Sulawesi.

Lely Djuhari - UNICEF Communication Specialist
Sophia Survivor
Wilander/UNICEF/2018

04 December 2018

A faint but a determined heartbeat has returned to the provincial capital city of Palu in Indonesia’s Central Sulawesi. A month after a powerful 7.4 magnitude earthquake and tsunami devastated this once palm-fringed bayside area, 11-year-old girl Sophia Angelica Majid woke up from her slumber on one sunny morning.

 

Her room is now a tent, shared with nine other family members and neighbours. Her bed is a mattress, protected by a mosquito net. Her morning routine now includes showering or washing her face and hands with soap; brushing her teeth with water from a large container at the end of a field dotted with white and khaki green canvas temporary shelters.

 

She no longer has a school bag, full of books. Her laptop, full of homework notes, computer games, and her favourite Disney movies Frozen and Moana, is nowhere to be found.

Sophia and her mother
Wilander/UNICEF/2018
Sophia Angelica Majid listens to her mother, and laughs as they share a story while sitting on a mattress. The 11-year-old girl is living with her family and neighbours in a temporary shelter, up on a hill about 2 kilometers from where they used to live on the shoreline of Palu Bay, Indonesia.

Education is for every child. There are hundreds and thousands of children affected by the earthquake and tsunami here. It’s time for them to go back to school and get a sense of normalcy in their lives

Yusra Tebe, UNICEF Emergency Education Specialist

With only one exercise book and a pen, she started to get ready for her school day. Her mother Evni Majid bid her goodbye as she busied herself filling in a city form to record that she, her husband, Sophia and her two brothers were safe. Though it would be forever imprinted in her mind how they ran desperately to get away from the waves that engulfed large swathes of the shoreline. Sophia’s quick reaction made her grab two mobile phones. They became the family’s lifeline in the following chaotic days, trying to find food, drink and information on where the rest of the family sought refuge.

 

On Sophia’s 30-minute-walk to school amidst the debris, cars and motorbikes rumbled in the streets as her hometown came back to life.

 

“Oh my, that entire wall is gone,” Sophia gasped, as she arrived to SDN Inpres II Talise and gazed for the first time the surreal landscape at the back of her school, which faced the waterfront. “It’s heartbreaking. This used to be a neat row of school buildings. There was a large housing complex over there. There used to be durian fruit sellers (on the coastline). Now it’s all gone.”

Sophia and her mother
Wilander/UNICEF/2018
On the way to school, Sophia passes the area where her house used to stand. According to preliminary data, an estimated 212,000 people have been displaced and over 68,000 homes are either severely damaged or destroyed.

Of the 202 students registered at Sophia’s school only 70 from all the six grades showed up that day. However, she and her friends sat down on the plastic-covered ground ready to learn the first lesson of the day.

 

It's a long way from normal, but it's a start.

UNICEF was the first UN agency to transport 94 metric tonnes of essential emergency supplies through an airbridge from a neighbouring island of Borneo. Sophie’s school was one of the first to receive the 450 school tents and 300 school-in-a-box that UNICEF has committed to deliver to over 1,400 affected schools, more than184,000 children and nearly 13,000 teachers. UNICEF also successfully advocated a standard-setting first as the Government procured another 150 tents using UNICEF specifications. 

 

The Head of the Education Office Irwan Lahece has issued a back to school appeal. All schools are to resume school from 8 to 11 AM in the morning, with an hour dedicated to psychosocial support – singing, playing games, talking in a group or one-on-one with the teachers about whatever is on their mind.

 

But aftershocks are still a regular occurrence. Many parents fear that after surviving thus far, their lives may still be changed for the worse. Officials are still confirming the total number of children who have already regained access to education. They will also step up efforts to clear up broken furniture, mangled metal pieces, shards of glass from the school grounds. Another challenge for the coming months is to set up latrines and handwashing facilities in the school tents.

 

The searing heat outside of the not-quite-yet noon sun signalled that classes were over. The tent was considerably cooler as the teachers raised the wall flaps to allow air to circulate inside the 72-meter square room. The children – including Sophia - lined up to receive a UNICEF white bag with exercise books, pens, rulers, an eraser, a sharpener and crayons.

 

A bag full of hope to add to her sole school possession of one note book and one pen.

 

“Education is for every child. There are hundreds and thousands of children affected by the earthquake and tsunami here. It’s time for them to go back to school and get a sense of normalcy in their lives,” said Yusra Tebe, UNICEF Emergency Education Specialist. He added that with the onset of a monsoon, in some areas their hardships may be compounded by more landslides.

After school, Sophia and her older brother returned to her house stripped of its roof, wooden walls, doors. Only a cement foundation is now left behind, marking the four rooms of her house. She looks through the wreckage to try and find some of her belongings, including her school uniform, shoes or sandals without any luck. She manages to find a white frilly dress belonging to Tasha her friend and promises to tell her of the find.

 

With the Government of Indonesia leading the response, UNICEF was ready to support in the critical hours and days after an emergency in Central Sulawesi. A six-month plan has been completed. UNICEF now stands ready to support the Government, partners and the community, as the emergency response moves into early recovery.