Indonesia: New school year is a time of hope for tsunami-affected Aceh

By Amy Ahn and Lely Djuhari

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia, 19 July 2005 - For ten-year-old Siti Zahara, the first day of school is especially significant this year. Not only is she beginning a new year of classes, she is also going to a new schoolhouse, replacing the one destroyed by last December's tsunami.

Siti's mother was killed in the tsunami. Siti now lives with her father and two sisters in a temporary shelter. The struggle to rebuild their lives is difficult. For Siti as well as her fellow classmates, the new school year (in Aceh the school year began on 18 July) provides renewed hope and a much-needed sense of normalcy.

Siti's new school is not far from the coast of Banda Aceh. It is one of 200 temporary schools that UNICEF and the Indonesian Government are building this year throughout the hardest-hit areas of Aceh and North Sumatra.

The new schools will help serve the needs of tens of thousands of schoolchildren. The rapid construction schedule is necessary because classes in tsunami-affected areas have been held in large tents. Around 1,500 schools were destroyed or severely damaged in this region as a result of the tsunami.

The temporary schools will cost around $11,500 each to build.

"UNICEF is providing the springboard for Aceh to recover from the traumatic events of six months ago," says UNICEF Representative in Indonesia Gianfranco Rotigliano. "School is a crucial part of getting students back to normal lives."

A major effort to get children 'Back to School'

The construction of 200 temporary buildings is the precursor to a $90 million UNICEF programme to rebuild and renovate a total of 500 permanent schools across Aceh.

To support the 'Back to School' campaign for the new academic year, UNICEF has paid for the recruitment and initial training of 1,200 new teachers. It has also provided 230,000 sets of textbooks and 830,000 sets of school supplies.

"The importance of education for children cannot be overstated. For UNICEF, one of the main challenges is to make sure the children of Aceh remain the focus of the recovery," Rotigliano says.

"The tsunami may have swept away their past, but it should not be allowed to destroy their future. What we all do now will have a profound influence on the lives of these children."