ACEH AND NIAS, Indonesia, 7 May 2007 - The mayor of Banda Aceh, Mawardi Nurdin, recently opened SDN 96 Primary School in the community of Neusu Aceh, Baiturrahman - thereby reaching a milestone of 100 new schools either completed or under construction since the December 2004 tsunami devasted the education infrastructure in this region.
SDN 96 is the fourth school in Banda Aceh and the 14th school overall in Aceh Province and Nias Island, North Sumatra to be completed with UNICEF's support. Eighty-six more schools are under construction.
All 130 students and 16 teachers at SDN 96 joined the celebration, along with parents, community members, Ministry of Education officials and principals from other area schools. Together, they listened to Atun, a fifth-grade student, reciting a poem about her new bright-blue school. They saw the traditional 'peusijuk' ceremony, which is meant to bring good luck and keep bad spirits away from the building.
And together, they watched as UNICEF's Chief of Field Office in Aceh and Nias, Edouard Beigbeder, handed a giant blue key to the principal of SDN 96 to symbolically unlock the new two-story, six-classroom school.
Child-friendly and quake-resistant
"We have come a long way together to reach this important moment," said Mr. Beigbeder. "I sincerely welcome you to your new school, and I encourage you to be actively involved in its maintenance and use, so that many generations in the future can continue to have a beautiful space to learn in."
Like all UNICEF schools, SDN 96 is child-friendly with a degree of earthquake resistance factored into its design. The facility, which cost approximately $160,000 to build, also includes a teachers' office, a library, a courtyard where students can play and separate toilets for boys and girls, among many other features.
The orginal school building was badly damaged by the 26 December 2004 earthquake that triggered the tsunami; it had to be demolished the following year. Teachers and students held classes in UNICEF emergency tents after the disaster and later moved into two semi-permanent school units provided by UNICEF until the permanent school was completed.
"UNICEF has been helping the students of SDN 96 since the earthquake, and with every step improved their learning environment and thus their lives," said Principal Ibu Hurin. "The whole community is very proud of our new school."
The two semi-permanent units will now be used as a kindergarten and a community centre.
'Higher levels of safety'
UNICEF is planning to build a total of 367 school units in Aceh and Nias, with more set to open in the coming months. The organization is committed to setting new and higher standards in school construction by 'building back better' with schools that are earthquake-resistant and child-friendly.
"It is important that we build schools with higher levels of safety in these areas so prone to earthquakes," said UNICEF Representative in Indonesia Dr. Gianfranco Rotigliano. "There can be no compromise on this quality issue".
In mid-2006, UNICEF established its own Construction Unit to oversee the permanent school project. Under an agreement approved by the Government of Indonesia, UNICEF's implementing partner, the United Nations Office for Project Services, will build 170 schools, and two design and supervision companies, Nippon Koei and Bita, are to build 67 schools each - including facilities in areas affected by Aceh's 32-year-long armed conflict.
UNICEF actively promotes community participation throughout the school construction process, from site selection and design to long-term school management and maintenance by local residents.