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Tsunami disaster – countries in crisis

A school principal in Banda Aceh looks to the future


© UNICEF Indonesia/2005/Estey
Basic school supplies, from UNICEF’s school-in-a-box kits, allow children to get back to school as soon as possible. This is vital to help them recover a sense of normalcy.

By John Budd

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia, 21 March 2005 - Yustiti sifts among the rubble. It hasn’t rained for two weeks and the mud left behind by the tsunami is baked hard. She picks up a school textbook, the dried pages thickened by water, reads the cover, then throws it away.

This is SD7, a primary school in Banda Aceh where 354 children aged from 6 to 12 once marched into class, sang the national anthem and rushed around playing during breaks. Today 50 survive.

Yustiti is the school principal.

“I was near here at the markets when the tsunami struck. Someone yelled water, water and I ran away with the crowd and leapt onto a truck. The water came up to my waist,” she says. 

Nearly 1,000 schools were destroyed or damaged

Yustiti bends and examines the remains of a flattened computer. Across the road, poised on the stairs of a broken house like a statue, is an anatomy model. The model is the only piece of school equipment that hasn’t been broken or damaged. Only one wall of the school building was left standing.

What happened to SD7 is not unique. Nearly 1,000 schools were destroyed or damaged too badly to be used again. All the precious supplies, text books, classroom gear and playground equipment were swept away. Around 2,500 teachers are dead and 3,000 other teachers remain homeless.

“I’ve lost two children and my house. I have nothing. I’m living with my sister and trying to rent a house,” Yustiti says. “But I’m going to rebuild. I’m back working as a teacher and I am looking to get a second job.”

The long road back to normalcy

© UNICEF Indonesia/2005/Donan
This young student in Aceh is a bit camera-shy.

The children in Banda Aceh returned to school exactly one month after the disaster and UNICEF was there to support the Government’s efforts.

“It was the first tentative step in the long road back to normalcy,” UNICEF’s Representative in Indonesia Gianfranco Rotigliano says. “Getting children back to school as fast as possible was one of our top priorities.”

To that end, UNICEF quickly distributed thousands of school-in-a-box kits and teaching tents. Within weeks, UNICEF staff was assessing the damage to the schools and taking immediate steps to get them up and running.

With so many people dead, the number of available teachers is still uncertain. “Only two weeks ago, the number of teachers who died was revised upwards to 600,” UNICEF Education Officer Erik Bentzen says. As a result, 200 teachers were brought to Aceh from other parts of Indonesia.

So far, UNICEF has distributed enough basic school supplies for 300,000 children. The organization is also proposing to hire another 1,000 teachers. 

Looking to the future, UNICEF will spend about $80 million to rehabilitate 250 schools in the next three years and will provide all the learning materials for all primary school children in Aceh. The organization has also convinced to government to allocate funds to build 300 more schools.

Three months after her school was destroyed, Yustiti and her fifty surviving students have relocated to another school about a kilometre from SD7.

“Everyone feels pain and I try to make the children feel happier than before. School is a haven, a temporary healing place,” Yustiti says. “But after school they go back to their families and it brings back the sadness.”




March 2005:
Steve Nettleton interviews Yustiti and reports on UNICEF's efforts to rebuild schools in Banda Aceh.

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March 2005:
Ken Maskall UNICEF Head of Office in Aceh discusses how the money donated to UNICEF is being spent to help children.

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