Back to school one month after Indonesia’s earthquake and tsunami

Around 184,000 students have been affected, including 11-year-old Sophia.

Arimacs Wilander and Lely Djuhari
Indonesia earthquake and tsunami. A girl stands by her destroyed house.
30 October 2018

PALU, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, 30 October 2018 – A faint but determined heartbeat has returned to the provincial capital city of Palu in Indonesia’s Central Sulawesi, one month after a powerful 7.4 magnitude earthquake and tsunami devastated this once palm-fringed area.

Around 1.5 million people have been affected, including hundreds and thousands of children. One of them is 11-year-old Sophia Anjelica Majid.

Sophia now lives in a tent with nine others – members of her family and neighbours – who fled their homes when the earthquake and tsunami struck. Their temporary shelter is on a hill about 2 km from where they used to live on the shore of Palu bay.

Sophia’s family is not alone.

The earthquake and tsunami displaced an estimated 212,000 people and severely damaged or destroyed over 68,000 homes.

When the earthquake and tsunami struck, Sophia and her family had to run desperately to escape the waves that engulfed large swathes of the shoreline. As they fled, Sophia quickly grabbed two mobile phones. These phones became the family’s lifeline in the following chaotic days as they tried to find food, drink and information on the rest of the family.

After several weeks, Sophia went back to look through the wreckage of her family’s home (pictured above) to try and find some of her belongings. She was hoping to find her school uniform, shoes or sandals, but had no luck. She misses her laptop that had her favourite movies Frozen and Moana on.

Indonesia earthquake and tsunami. A displaced mother and daughter cook in their temporary shelter.

Sophia looks on while her mother Evni Majid cooks rice. The family uses an area at the back of the tent as a kitchen.

Every night she goes to sleep on a mattress underneath a mosquito net. In the morning she brushes her teeth with water from a container at the end of the field where the temporary shelters are located.

Indonesia earthquake and tsunami. Two displaced students walk to school.

With her only exercise book and pen, Sophia heads to school with her friend Dewi Safira (right). Dewi, who studies in a neighbouring school, has already received a UNICEF bag filled with school equipment, and Sophia is looking forward to receiving one today.  

At least 1,200 schools were damaged by the earthquake and tsunami, affecting about 184,000 students, according to recent estimates.

Sophia’s school was one of those hit and most of the teaching equipment and children’s school books have been destroyed.

Today is Sophia’s first day back at school and she's met with a scene of devastation.

“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. Now it’s all gone.” Sophia, 11

Indonesia earthquake and tsunami. Students outside their temporary UNICEF school tent.

Sophia and her friends go into their UNICEF school tent. It's a long way from normal, but it's a start.

Of the 202 students registered at Sophia’s school only 70 show up this day. All 18 teachers survived, although nearly half of them are unable to resume teaching. Some have sought refuge in other towns, while others are still looking for lost relatives.

Aftershocks are still a regular occurrence and many parents fear that their lives may still be changed for the worse.

“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

Indonesia earthquake and tsunami. A displaced student receives a bag of school equipment.

Sophia receives a bag filled with school equipment from her school principal. It includes much-needed exercise books, pens, crayons and more. 

Sophia’s school was one of the first to receive supplies from UNICEF, including school tents and early childhood education kits.

As part of the Government’s efforts to support children’s return to school, broken furniture, mangled pieces of metal and shards of glass are being cleaned up from the school grounds.

Another challenge for the next six months will be to set up latrines and handwashing facilities for the schools.

Indonesia earthquake and tsunami. Students outside their temporary school.

It will be a long road to recovery, but being in school and playing with her friends have brought some hope and happiness back to Sophia’s life. With the right support, there is every chance of her continuing school and regaining her childhood, despite the magnitude of the disaster that struck one month ago.

From emergency response to early recovery

With the Government of Indonesia leading the response, UNICEF was ready to support in the critical hours and days after the earthquake and tsunami struck Central Sulawesi. UNICEF now stands ready to support the Government, partners and the community, as the emergency response moves into early recovery.

Fundraising appeal

UNICEF has launched an appeal to cover education, health, nutrition, sanitation and child protection needs for the current emergency, as well as the lasting impact of the Lombok earthquake one month earlier, which killed 550 people and displaced 340,000 people. The funds will provide services for the affected children and families, as part of the response led by the Government of Indonesia.

Learn more about the appeal

Read UNICEF Indonesia Humanitarian Situation Report (23/10/2018)

>> Donate now 

Around the world, UNICEF responds to humanitarian emergencies to bring lifesaving help to children and families. In 2017, UNICEF responded to 337 humanitarian emergencies – from conflicts to natural disasters – in 102 countries.