Building permanent schools in Indonesia five years after the tsunami

News and Press Release
Originally published
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By Rob McBride

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia, 22 December 2009 - In the playground of the Muhamadiyah Elementary School a peaceful game of rounders is underway. But five years ago, this area was not so serene, as the devastating tsunami claimed the lives of nearly 300 pupils who were enrolled in this school at the time.

Now, completely rebuilt, it's hard to believe that this Muhamadiyah Elementary is at the centre of one of the worst affected areas around the Indian Ocean.

"I was with my friends when we saw this black water coming up from the river," said 10-year-old student Taufik. "I got to the mosque where my mother found me and took me to the mountains."

Now in his last year at this school, Taufik has seen the student population gradually expand to 190 students and is looking ahead to secondary school. For the school's principal, reconstruction has been a five-year mission during which she and her staff helped to rebuild against almost impossible odds.

"We were determined to get the remaining children back into class quickly," she said. "So we collected as many surviving children as we could from the displaced peoples' camps and placed them in temporary schools provided by UNICEF."

Upgraded facilities

During the construction of all the new schools, care was taken to use the disaster as an opportunity to 'build back better'.

At the Ketapang Elementary School, upgraded latrine and washing facilities provided by UNICEF have enabled students to win regional and national awards for personal hygiene.

"We've always tried to educate the children on their personal hygiene," said the school's Principal. "But now, since the tsunami, it has improved greatly."

Permanent structures

In the immediate aftermath of the tsunami, getting children back into class was a crucial part of the recovery process. Gradually, tented classrooms and temporary learning spaces gave way to more permanent structures. To date, nearly 350 earthquake-resistant schools have been constructed by UNICEF and its partners.

Happy to be back in a permanent building, Taufik's classmate Hafidz recalls the difficult environment in the makeshift classrooms: "Studying in the temporary school wasn't nice," he said. "But my classroom now is fully equipped."

At the end of class, it's a short walk for Hafidz from school to the small house where he lives with his brother and parents. Pointing to a line on the wall at chest level, he indicates how high the flood waters reached. Like many others, he was separated from his parents for several days, not knowing if they had survived.

Hafidz is simply grateful they lived through it and were reunited.