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At a glance: Indonesia

New classrooms and a new safe haven for tsunami-affected children in Aceh

© UNICEF Indonesia/2007/Estey
After suffering violence in the past, Sri Rahmadani, 10, now finds going to school safe and enjoyable.

By Steve Nettleton

PANCA, Indonesia, December 2007 – Fourth-grader Sri Rahmadani, 10, takes pride in her attendance record at school. “Unless I am sick, I want to come to school,” she says.

It is a dramatic turn from two years ago, when she, like most of her classmates, was terrified of going to class.

Even before the tsunami struck this region in December 2004, her village outside the provincial capital, Banda Aceh, had long suffered during fighting between Acehnese rebels and the Indonesian military. Panca Primary School was burned during the conflict, and classes at a makeshift temporary structure were often cancelled because of violence.

Sri Rahmadani’s father was kidnapped during the conflict and remains missing. She says she was always worried someone would take her, too.

‘Now it is getting better’
“Those days before, it was dangerous, but now it is getting better,” she says. “Now it is safe to go to school, you can make friends with people and it is comfortable to study.”

Soon, Sri Rahmadani and her fellow students will move into a new permanent school being built by UNICEF as part of its ‘building back better’ tsunami recovery effort. The new school, designed to be more earthquake-resistant, features bigger classrooms, a large courtyard and separate toilets for boys and girls.

© UNICEF Indonesia/2007/Estey
Classmates enjoy the new building and facilities at their school in Aceh Besar.

School leaders have high expectations for the new building.

“We hope that with the new school the children will be motivated to get a better education, and that they can have the same quality of studies as students in bigger towns – and that this motivation will stimulate the entire community,” said Panca’s superintendent, Muslim, who uses only one name.

Commitment to building schools
Panca is one of nearly 346 schools UNICEF has committed to build across Aceh and Nias Island. More than 60 have been completed, and about 130 are under construction. Another 86 are in the design stage.

In addition to replacing schools that were destroyed or damaged in the tsunami, UNICEF is working to help communities that may have been overlooked even before the disaster. It is building new schools in six conflict-affected districts in Aceh, where school enrolment and access have been extremely low.

For Sri Rahmadani, the new school will be much more than a classroom.

“I want to have books, so we can read and read,” she says. “We also can eat our cakes there, we can drink and we can come with friends that live far from the school.”

With support from UNICEF, new schools in Aceh are providing children with improved spaces for learning, and for growing up away from harm.




December 2007:
UNICEF correspondent Steve Nettleton reports on UNICEF’s commitment to building schools in tsunami-affected Banda Aceh, Indonesia.
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