Friday, 16 June 2017

BCA and UNICEF continue to partner for children

UNICEF Indonesia’s longest-standing corporate partner of 17 years, Bank BCA, travelled with UNICEF late last April to conduct financial literacy and personal hygiene workshops with students at two elementary schools in Sorong, West Papua, where they engaged with the students and teachers who benefit from the child-friendly school programme. The team also visited community-based early childhood development centres in Raja Ampat, West Papua. Coverage in local media was strong, follow the links below for more details on this successful trip.



Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Stopping Rubella in Its Tracks

By Dinda Veskarahmi, Fundraising Communication Officer

Aris (7) at school after recovering from Rubella

Central Java: Aris had just gotten home from school when the fever hit. His mother, a local health volunteer, did what she could, giving him medicine and applying a cold compress to his forehead, but to no avail; the 38°C fever would not relent.

The next morning, Aris was taken to a nearby health centre in Klaten, Central Java, where his blood was drawn and sent to a nearby city for tests. The results came back several days later: Aris had tested positive for Rubella.

His mother, Diah, was extremely worried; she had heard the virus was contagious and could cause cataracts or loss of hearing. But fortunately for Aris, Rubella is usually a mild disease for children. It is babies in the womb that face the greatest danger.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Pushing Haze Safety for Indonesian Kids

By: Vania Santoso – Innovations Adolescent and Youth Engagement Officer

Students walk along a street as they are released from school to return home earlier due to the haze in Jambi, Indonesia’s Jambi province © Antara Foto/Wahdi Setiawan/Reuters/29 September 2015

Palangkaraya: “Haze made me feel like I don’t want to be here anymore, ever!” said Gibran, a fourth-grader from Palangkaraya, East Kalimantan.

It wasn’t easy to listen to Gibran recount life during the 2015 haze in his corner of Indonesian Borneo, a weekslong event some have called the 21st century’s worst environmental disaster. In his village, the haze got so bad he and his family couldn’t stay. They were evacuated hundreds of kilometres away to Java, where they stayed for some two months with his grandmother.

Helping Jasmine

By: Felice Bakker, JPO, Child Protection

As part of UNICEF Indonesia’s approach to modelling scalable interventions, I am documenting good birth registration practices at our nine pilot sites across Indonesia.  On this occasion, I was able to meet with a family who benefited from UNICEF’s pilot in Makassar, where partnerships are facilitated with local NGO’s to register vulnerable children, including those with disabilities.

Jasmine (left) poses with the author (center), her two children and friend Irma at home in Makassar
Makassar: Jasmine* is quadriplegic. So are her two youngest children. Her three-year-old daughter Nur needs to be carried, while her five-year-old son Ali has to walk on all fours.

During antenatal visits to hospitals in years past, doctors told Jasmine that a disabled mother couldn’t possibly raise children the right way, advising her to use contraceptives to avoid future pregnancies. Needless to say, Jasmine disagreed.

To learn more about Jasmine’s life as a mother with disability and the challenges she faces, a colleague and I visited her at her home in Makassar, South Sulawesi. She greeted us warmly at the door, inviting us inside to meet her three children, whose laughter could already be heard from the street.

Friday, 2 June 2017

Empowering midwives with INFOBIDAN

By Cory Rogers, Communication Officer

Two midwives demonstrate how to access the information held on the INFOBIDAN website. © Cory Rogers / UNICEF / 2017

East Java: “With INFOBIDAN, we have the proof at our fingertips!” hollers Sri Utami, a village-based midwife in eastern Java, just making herself heard above the noise.

Steps away, seven women lead a boisterous chant – “INFOBIDAN, yes! INFOBIDAN yes!” – hoping to have already convinced the 100 midwives who have gathered to sign up for the new mobile application.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

#IniSuaraku: What Young People Think about Access to Reproductive Care

By Vania Santoso, Youth Engagement Officer

Young people got busy on their mobile phones to voice their opinions during the Adolescent Summit © UNICEFIndonesia/2017/Achmad Rifai

Yogyakarta: Each year, 1 June marks the Global Day of Parents, a day emphasizing the critical role of parents in the rearing of children. Children need to be nurtured and protected; no child should be a parent.

Thinking about this made me recall my experience at the National Adolescent Summit in Yogyakarta in March 2017 which aimed to address the issue of unplanned teen pregnancy.  

Some 70 young people, selected from 25 of Indonesia's 34 provinces, engaged in intense discussions on adolescent reproductive health access with representatives from the Government of Indonesia, UN agencies and NGOs. 

Naturally, in the "Twitter Capital of the World", debates spilled over onto social media. It was amazing to see young people boldly voicing their opinions and taking a stand on these sensitive issues, both online and offline. 

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Sweden's Queen Silvia puts Indonesian children front and centre

By Cory Rogers, Communication Officer

Sweden’s Queen Silvia accepts a “Dream Map” describing the aspirations of nine youngsters during her state visit to Indonesia on May 24th, 2017.
© Cory Rogers/UNICEF / 2017.

Jakarta: “I want to be the first Indonesian to touch the moon!” proclaimed Ikhsan, a fifth-grade boy from the crowded neighbourhood of Manggarai, South Jakarta.

Sitting nearby, Her Majesty Queen Silvia of Sweden must have seemed an unlikely visitor to this urban slum, where children often lack the residency papers to attend primary school, let alone pursue a degree in something like astrophysics.

“I want to become an astronaut!” Ikhsan continued, peppering his Bahasa Indonesian with a healthy dose of English. “But here, not many children even know what astronomy is.”

How might the Queen help kids like him realize such a dream? he wondered. And what might Indonesia be able to do?

The Cold Chain Guru of NTT

By Ermi Ndoen, EPI Officer

Ariel gives a presentation at a UNICEF-supported cold chain workshop and training in NTT province ©Ermi Ndoen/UNICEF/2017
Ende: It’s just a normal day in the life of Johanis Rihi Leo, known as “Ariel,” who always has somewhere to be.  

“I’ve got to go fix three cold chain refrigerators right away,” said Ariel, before rushing off from Ende in Flores to Kefamenanu in Timor Tengah (TTU) District, a hilly district on the eastern island of Timor hundreds of kilometers away.
Ariel oversees cold chain integrity for the East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) Provincial Health Agency, ensuring vaccines headed for local health centres stay cold from point of manufacture to point of use – no mean feat in a tropical country where high temperatures make constant refrigeration costly.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Menstruation matters for boys as well as girls

By: Liz Pick, Communication Specialist

The cover of the What is Menstruation? comic book for boys ©UNICEF Indonesia/2016/Tongeng

On 28 May, people around the world will mark Menstrual Hygiene Day calling for greater awareness about the fundamental role that good menstrual hygiene management (MHM) plays in enabling women and girls to reach their full potential. 

UNICEF Indonesia is joining the global voices to encourage education about menstruation to be extended to boys as well as girls. Some might ask: ‘But menstruation happens to girls, why do boys also need to know about it?’ 

Monday, 15 May 2017

‘All Children have the Right to an Identity’: Registering Babies in Flores

By: Cory Rogers, Communication Officer 

Maumere, Flores: A 20-foot statue of the late John Paul II towers over the entrance to Bishop Girulfuls Kherubim Pareira’s office in Maumere, a town of 160,000 people deep in Indonesia’s Catholic heartland of Flores.

It was under John Paul II that the Vatican made social work a core mission of the Church; and here in Maumere, that vision remains potent, creating opportunities for UNICEF and Government to do more for children.
“We know we can’t just talk about spiritual needs at the Church,” said Msgr. Girulfis, who heads the Diocese of Maumere. “When you look at the condition of our people, it is clear we have to speak to their material needs too."

Friday, 12 May 2017

Youth Seek Seat at the Table on SDGs

By: Niken Larasati, Child Protection Officer
Ms. Hulshof, (center rear) joins the UNICEF team and youth participants for a photo following the forum.
©Raditya Henrile / UNICEF /2017

“People often discuss what should be done for people with disabilities, but they don’t often include us in their discussions,” Panji Surya Sahetapy of the Indonesian Association for Welfare of the Deaf said through an interpreter.

His message, delivered during a youth forum on the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda was clear – in conversations about disability rights, people with disability need to be heard.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Champions4Children Call on Indonesia to Place Children at Heart of Development

By Liz Pick, Communications Specialist

The Champions4Children and Minister for Women's Empowerment and Child Protection Yohana Susana Yembise (fourth from right) pose with UNICEF Indonesia Representative Gunilla Olsson (third from right) and five young girls at the event in South Jakarta.
©Raditya Henrile / UNICEF/2017 

Jakarta: It is Sunday afternoon in Jakarta, a city of 10 million people, and it feels like most of them are at the Kota Kasablanka shopping mall.

“Children are our future leaders. They are the ones who will bring change to Indonesia in 25 years, in 50 years,” Indonesia’s Minister of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection, Yohana Yembise says, looking at a group of current leaders.

Sitting in the front row are a group of prominent Indonesians – leaders of government, business, civil society, the arts and academia – who have each committed to use their influence to fight for children’s rights in Indonesia. These are the UNICEF Indonesia Champions4Children.

The event is part of the Jakarta Marketing Week 2017, put on every year by UNICEF’s Business Champion, Hermawan Kartajaya and his company MarkPlus. On this busy Sunday, the audience is primarily families and it is to them that the Minister of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection, Yohanna Yembise, speaks.

She urges all Indonesians to work together to end child marriage, end violence against children and empower young people to shape their future.

“We need to work together to protect all of Indonesia’s children – without discrimination. That’s my role as Minister. I hope you are all committed to join me in protecting our children and our future.”

The Champions are here to inspire ordinary people to take action that address the challenges children in Indonesia continue to face. Each one of them has a simple message to share with the audience – a message about working together now to protect the future.

One of the Champions is rising film star Dion Wiyoko. As a presenter of a popular TV travel show, he has explored many different corners of Indonesia. His passion for protecting this beautiful country comes through clearly as he speaks about his drive to improve sanitation and hygiene practices for a safer, healthier environment.

“I want everyone to know about UNICEF’s Tinju Tinja campaign,” he says. “During my trips through Indonesia, again and again I am surprised by how many people still defecate in the open because they don’t have a latrine. Many children fall sick or even die because of health problems caused by this.”

“The solution is not only building toilets, it’s also educating people to use them,” Dion says. “They need to know what the dangers are, what the impact is. We have to convince people everywhere to end open defecation.”

Dion helped launching the second phase of Tinju Tinja (which translates loosely as “Punch the Poo”) and plans on using his considerable social media presence to increase its outreach into communities across the country, when the campaign will be re-launched later this year.

Predictably, master storytelling teacher Ariyo Zidni has the crowd’s full attention as he talks about the importance of tapping into children’s creativity for their educational development. One way he does this is by facilitating storytelling workshops to provide psychosocial trauma healing for children and adolescents affected by natural disasters such as earthquakes and flooding, emergencies that happen regularly in Indonesia.
Champions4Children Dion Wiyoko (right) and M. Farhan (left) talk children's rights at the event in Jakarta.
©Raditya Henrile / UNICEF/2017 
As well as lecturing at the University of Indonesia, Ariyo is currently collaborating with UNICEF on a project to empower young people through digital storytelling to find solutions to problems caused by climate change.

Speaking after the event he says working with UNICEF has given him access to a wealth of information and data about children’s rights which has helped him better understand the issues children face in Indonesia and to improve his own practice accordingly.

“I support UNICEF because we have the same idea about the need to put children at the centre of Indonesia’s agenda,” he says. “As adults, we need to see through children’s eyes and look at the world from their perspective for all new ideas and designs.”

Likewise, well-known radio and TV broadcaster, M. Farhan says he supports UNICEF because its work for children aligns closely with his own core beliefs.

“UNICEF has important values and it works to help children’s rights from protection against harm and abuse through to education. That way, when they grow up they can also protect and fulfil the rights of the next generation of children.”

Farhan is a strong advocate for healthy living, education, and economic development to empower youth to achieve a better future for themselves. Proving he practices the healthy lifestyle he preaches, he shows photos from a triathlon he competed in while encouraging the audience to “be moved to move”.

“I want people not only to be moved and show empathy, but also to literally move and take action,” he says.

A murmur goes through the audience as the daughter of late President of Indonesia Gus Dur, Yenny Wahid takes to the stage. An active member of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the world’s largest independent Islamic organization with 70 million members, Ibu Yenny has become a well-known social activist for inter-faith and multicultural dialogue in her own right.

She addresses the parents in the audience, urging them to listen to their children and teach them positive values so they can navigate today’s world.

“Parents need to maintain an open communication with their children. We can’t just tell them bedtime stories and then keep with our busy schedules. Communication is key. Otherwise, our children will not come to us when they have problems.”

Recently, the acclaimed former journalist gave her support to UNICEF during World Immunisation Week to encourage parents of all faiths to vaccinate their children against preventable diseases like measles and rubella.

Closing the event, Minister Yembise invited the Champions to her office to talk about how they can collaborate to implement children’s rights.

Friday, 21 April 2017

A Lesson in Gratitude

By: Yoan Mei Dyandari - UNICEF Indonesia Fundraiser

Yoan Mei (center) shares stories with schoolchildren in Pantaran Village, West Sulawesi. ©UNICEF / 2017 

Visiting Mamuju, a city in West Sulawesi, was an exciting opportunity for me. I was lucky to get to join the UNICEF team and Masagena, a local NGO, on a visit to Pantaraan Village where a “One-Roof School” (SATAP) has been built.
Supported jointly by UNICEF and Masagena, the SATAP schools combine primary education (grades 1-6) and junior secondary education (grades 7-9) in one compound. The aim is to make the transition to secondary education both physically easier and financially more feasible for poor students living in remote and isolated areas.

Getting to this particular SATAP, however, was no walk in the park: The road was littered with sharp rocks and pocked by potholes. The sun burned with searing heat.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

My UNV Story: Ilham Akbar

By: Ilham Akbar, Technology, Youth & Innovation Officer

Ilham, right, takes part in assignment preparation in Colombo Sri Lanka
When I checked my email sometime in August 2016, I saw a subject line that that read: “NOW HIRING: Tech Jobs for Social Good”. Two of my favourite organizations, UNICEF and CISCO, were partnering! I decided to apply straightaway.

I had reasons for this. One was that I had successfully completed a Cisco certification on computer networking. Another was a burgeoning interest in volunteerism, which began early on in college when a friend asked me to join a student group at Brawijaya University in Malang, East Java, where I was studying for my bachelor’s degree.

This group, KOIN Malang, focuses on giving street children avenues for getting an education both inside and outside the classroom. When I first witnessed for myself the conditions under which street children live, I have to say it was a shock. Not just the poverty, but the lack of opportunity.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

There is Gold on the Tip of the Rattan Stick

By: Irna G. Setywati, STKIP Muhammadiyah Sorong

A boy takes notes during a regular school day in the Papua highlands
© Nick Baker/ UNICEF / 2015  
"There is gold on the tip of rattan stick”.  So goes a common proverb in Papua.

The proverb is especially popular among primary school teachers in coastal areas like Makbon and Sorong – invoked to justify disciplining children by hitting them with a stick.

Late last year, grade teachers and principals at four schools in Makbon subdistrict, Sorong, received training on positive discipline.

Positive discipline involves providing positive reinforcement for good choices as well as consequences for misbehaviour. The training equips teachers with an alternative to corporal or physical punishment for managing students’ attendance and behaviour in the classroom.

Wilhelmina, a third grade teacher from Malaumkarta Primary School, recalled the training with a smile. She used the example of one of her students, Simon, who was absent for a month but had recently returned to school.

“I used to raise my voice when asking my students why they were absent. Today, I’ve changed the way I communicate with Simon,” she said.
“I wanted him to not be afraid of me, and I believed that if I spoke to him politely and with respect, he would come to school regularly.”

Mery, a first grade teacher in Makbon, also shared her story. Prior to the training she would bring a rattan stick to class. She would either hit it on the table for attention or strike students for misbehaving – even for failing to complete their homework.

Following the training, Mery abandoned the stick and introduced a reward system to incentivize good behaviour. She said the reward system was a much more effective method for keeping order in the classroom.

“I used to use the stick to keep students quiet because it was difficult to manage them. But now they follow the classroom [reward system] agreement so I no longer use the rattan,” she explained.

Neither Wilhelmina nor Mery knew about positive discipline before the UNICEF training. They now have a greater understanding of how corporal punishment damages young people, and an appreciation for how compassion and positive reinforcement can mold children’s character and self-esteem.

Without a greater awareness of the negative effects of corporal punishment, both agreed that violence against children will persist in schools.

Mobile Health Pilot Boosting Immunization in Urban Java

By Cory Rogers, Communication Officer

Karin Hulshof wipes a tear away from a child who will soon receive a health checkup at a local health post in West Jakarta. © Cory Rogers / UNICEF / 2017  

The line curls out of the door and into the alley, where dozens of mothers stand patiently, cradling newborns under an early morning drizzle.

“I’ll wait for the line to thin out and take my baby in later,” Eka* told UNICEF East Asia and the Pacific (EAPRO) Regional Director Karin Hulshof in her doorstep during Karin’s visit to Indonesia last week, her first as EAPRO Regional Director.

Like other young mothers in this West Jakarta slum, Eka looks forward to the opening of the posyandu (community-level health post) each month. “The difference is I’m not so eager to get wet,” she laughed.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Planting PAUD Hope in Papua

By: Cory Rogers, Communication Officer


Sorong, Papua Province, Indonesia -  Just 15 minutes east of the Sorong port sits STIKP Muhammadiyah Sorong, a serene teacher’s college awash in the blues of the sea.

Between two mid-campus ponds, Herman, a third-semester student at the college, winces as he relays an early school memory.
“We often didn’t even have paper to use [at school],” he says, one hand twirling pen strokes, the other scratching an ear. “So we took notes on our thighs instead.”
Peers were left to wonder: How many words even fit on a five-year-old’s knee?
“I want to return home after graduating [to teach],” Herman continued. “You know, half the time, the teacher didn’t even bother to show up.”

Friday, 10 March 2017

A City Belongs to Children: How Surakarta Establishes Its Trademark as a Child-Friendly City

By: Kinanti Pinta Karana, UNICEF Indonesia Communication Specialist

From left to right: UNICEF Indonesia Representative Gunilla Olsson, the Mayor of Surakarta Hadi ‘Rudy’ Rudyatmo and the UN Special Representative of the Secretary General Marta Santos Pais Photo ©UNICEF Indonesia/Kinanti Pinta Karana

Surakarta in central Java, earns a lot of praise for its commitment to put children at the centre of its policies. The city has been in a partnership with UNICEF since 2002 to improve child protection, with birth registration as a priority. In 2015, Surakarta received the Child Friendly City Award from President Joko Widodo, the city’s former mayor. In the last days of February, the UN Special Representative to the Secretary General (SRSG) for Violence against Children, Marta Santos Pais paid the city a visit along with several UNICEF staff including Representative Gunilla Olsson, to see how things are being done.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

From Youth to Youth: Creating Change-Makers to End Violence against Children

By Melania Niken Larasati, Child Protection Officer

Makassar workshop participants vow to end violence against children

Jakarta: “Physical violence is not a violation of human rights as long as it serves a higher purpose.”

At the statement, the audience began to shift uncomfortably, as did I: I wondered, if such a view could be so casually stated here in Makassar – at a workshop aimed at eliminating violence against children (VAC) -- how widespread was it among youth?

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Pushing for better early education in North Lombok

By Cory Rogers, Communication Officer
Children climb at the PAUD Banu Manaf playground in Terujuk Village, North Lombok

North Lombok: Few preschools or kindergartens (PAUD) in Indonesia boast a slide, a swing and a basketball hoop. Fewer still keep them inside. 

"We had to move all that indoors to keep it safe from adults," said Ibu Lastri, principal at Terpadu PAUD in northwest Lombok, a Muslim-majority island just east of Bali.

A library of children’s books abuts
a slide in a classroom at PAUD Terpadu
"I guess they didn't have access to these things when they were kids!" she laughed.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Youth Movers Taking Action to End Violence Against Children

by Ryan Febrianto, Child Protection Officer, UNICEF Indonesia

Youth leaders gather for a photo following the Youth Discussion for Child Protection Forum ©Unicef/Ryan Febrianto/2017 

JAKARTA - Ghivo Pratama, a young man from Padang, West Sumatra, gestures excitedly while he talks about visiting junior high schools in Bandung and Jakarta as part of ACTION, a youth anti-violence community. They were there to talk about tolerance: “Every child has to be protected from all types of violence,” he said at the Youth Discussion for Child Protection forum.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Designing Solutions for Indonesia’s Children in the Age of Haze

By Cory Rogers, Communication Officer

©Center for International Forestry Research/2014
Jakarta: When Indonesia’s yearly agricultural fires start up each fall, belching acrid haze through Borneo, Sumatra and over borders, the air one breathes becomes a health hazard unto itself: Schools shut down, thousands fall ill, and some will die from respiratory ailments.

Few dispute that haze is deadly, but solutions have been slow in coming, leaving millions of (mostly) rural Indonesians exposed to harm. Indeed, despite land and forest burning laws passed following the 2015 El Niño-powered haze (an event that one study says may have caused 100,000 premature deaths), haze returned in 2016. There is a clear need for new ideas.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

A Girl-Centered Movement for Change

By Felice Bakker, JPO, Child Protection

An illustration of workshop proceedings depicting the characteristics of the Indonesian Adolescent Girls Network ©UNICEF/Niken Larasati/2016
Jakarta: “The creation of a strong generation will not be achieved if the mother, who is the first source of education for a child, is a girl who is not yet ready to become a mother,” remarked women’s rights advocate and former First Lady (1999-2001) Ibu Sinta Nuriyah during the launch of the Indonesian Adolescent Girls Network in Jakarta.
The two-day workshop, held by UNICEF in partnership with Flamingo Social Purpose and Rumah KitaB, brought together advocates from 28 Indonesia-based organizations that focus on girls’ issues like child marriage, reproductive health and gender equality. The Network has been established to enable members to coordinate and implement interventions, scale them up, and develop synergies to achieve the best outcomes for adolescent girls. 

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Let's High Five a Facer!

By: Dinda Veska


A facer telling the UNICEF Programme in the mall.
©UNICEF Indonesia/2016/Surabaya.

‘They’re just like credit card salesmen, stopping us rudely!” the thinking goes. ‘If I could just avoid them, I would!’ At best people consider fundraising boring; at worst, it’s an act of pestering.

The fundraisers - we call them ‘Facers’ in Indonesia - are these young people wearing a UNICEF t-shirt we often see on the street or in the mall. In fact, they do an incredibly important job, informing people about the challenges faced by Indonesia’s most vulnerable and marginalized children.

Last week, I had an opportunity to join four UNICEF-Facers on a trip to Mamuju District, West Sulawesi, where they learned about the implementation of UNICEF-supported programmes. My first impression was that they were super-talkative. A useful trait, I thought, for people soliciting donations.              

On their trip to the Mamuju, the four Facers asked all kinds of questions to the local organizations that are implementing the government-run, UNICEF-supported programmes.  The questions were deep and informed, for instance concerning how data and facts were uncovered in the field.  

Later, armed with this newly gathered knowledge, the Facers will be better equipped to answer questions from potential donors. Indeed, that is the idea; to give Facers a better sense of the true impacts of interventions for children by sending them to the programme sites.

The motivation to learn and the spirit of service displayed by the four Facers in Mamuju was truly inspirational. Take Mey, a young woman who decided to become a Facer after her little sister died at a young age. “Maybe this is my chance to do something for my sister,” she told me. “Even though it’s not directly for her, at least I can say I am doing good things for children. Seeing the UNICEF banner at the job fair made me remember how my little sister died and I wasn’t by her side,” Mey said.

Understanding before judging, perhaps that’s the best thing to do. It may be irritating to have to sidestep Facers on the street when we are in a rush. But now I know I won’t always try to avoid them: They truly work hard to learn about the problems facing children in Indonesia and to raise money for a worthy cause. That deserves our appreciation.

So, the next time you see a Facer on the street, instead of running away, give them a high five and say good luck!

“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things, with great love.” Mother Teresa

UNICEF  facers meet children in the field.
©UNICEF Indonesia/2016/Dinda.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Back to School in Pidie Jaya

By Cory Rogers, Communication Officer

Second grade students study in an education tent set up days after the 6.5m earthquake tore through three regencies, killing hundreds and displacing thousands in north western Aceh Province © UNICEF Indonesia / 2017/ Cory Rogers

Pidie Jaya, Aceh: The crack starts near the door and cuts to the back wall through dusty tiles, a distance of some six or seven metres.

Considering the wreckage just a stone’s throw away – where homes lie in ruins, schools in piles of debris – the crack, which teachers at MIN Pangwa Islamic elementary school describe as the worst of the earthquake damage, might seem almost trivial.

But to Rajwa, 10, a fifth grade student, it is a kind of trigger -- a frightening reminder of an event that killed two of his classmates and forced his family from their home for weeks.

Rajwa outside MIN Pangwa © UNICEF Indonesia / 2017/ Cory Rogers

“I don’t want the earthquake to come back,” Rajwa says. “I don’t want to see the crack, I don’t want to go in there.”

Now, thanks to a tent supplied by the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNBP) on 27 December, Rajwa doesn’t have to.

Like students at some 200 schools across the three affected regencies, Rajwa will use the tent as a learning space as he awaits repairs to his classroom. It is a recovery initiative grounded in the belief that in times of disasters, education rises in importance.

A schoolteacher assists a child in one of two BNBP-supplied tents that allow students to keep learning as their damaged classrooms are repaired. © UNICEF Indonesia / 2017/ Cory Rogers

“Children don’t need education even in emergencies; they need education especially in emergencies,’’ UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake has said. Indeed, research shows that in times of crisis, schools provide structure and routine that helps kids cope with fear, loss and stress.

With this in mind, the Government -- partnering with an array of organizations, including UNICEF -- has launched “Ayo Kembali Ke Sekolah”, a back-to-school campaign that seeks to achieve full attendance at schools by early January. At MIN Pangwa, teachers say attendance has reached about 70 per cent.

Down the road at SDN Peulandok Tunong, however, and teachers say students have been showing up for weeks.

“All but two of our 93 students are back today,” says Ibu Wardiah, deputy principal of the elementary school. A crop of second-graders practice reading clocks behind her, their last lesson of the day.

The school, which sits three kilometres down a narrow, paddy-fringed road, collapsed in the earthquake, making it one of the first to receive a tent on 11 December by the Ministry of Education. A second tent has since been set up by the BNBP to house more learning activities.   

 Ibu Wardiah, (far left) and fellow SDN Peulandok Tunong teachers gather outside a tent supplied by UNICEF to the Ministry of Education. Theirs was one of the first schools to reconvene in the early days after the earthquake. © UNICEF Indonesia / 2017/ Cory Rogers

The school’s close-knit crew of teachers saw the tents were key to helping children recover, so they went about organising fun and games with the help of local NGOs. On one memorable afternoon, volunteers came to teach kids a song about surviving earthquakes, a song students now know by heart.

“This is my village, these are my children,” said Ibu Wardiah, who has been teaching at the school for over 30 years. “We don’t know if other schools are like this, but we know ours is,” she said proudly.

Only on 2 January did teachers begin using the formal curriculum, “because in the end, reading, counting and writing -- these are the crucial things we have to teach our children,” Ibu Wardiah explained.

In locations where schools were damaged beyond repair, semi-permanent structures like this one at SDN Peulandok Tunong are being built by government contractors to replace tents. These temporary classrooms will allow children to study in a safer, more comfortable setting as they await the construction of their permanent facilities © UNICEF Indonesia / 2017/ Cory Rogers.

According to head of the Pidie Jaya Department of Education Pak Saiful, other schools have struggled to replicate SDN Peulandok Tunong’s attendance success, partly because parents are still worried about safety; it was not lost on them, he said, that schools experienced some of the worst damage.

“We must ensure new schools are quake-resistant,” he said, blaming poor design and construction. “This cannot happen again.”

Poor construction lead to damage like this at SDN Peulandok Tunong, seen here just days after the quake. © UNICEF Indonesia / 2017/ Yusra Tebe

According to UNICEF Indonesia Programme Assistant Said Ikram, “in Aceh it’s been lucky that the big earthquakes happened either before children arrived at school or after they went home. This earthquake has opened the eyes of people in Pidie Jaya about building safer schools."

With UNICEF’s assistance, authorities are still determining how many schools will need to be rebuilt. In the meantime, getting tents up and semi-permanent classrooms built will continue to be Pak Saiful’s top priority.

“We still have a need for 37 tents [as of 3 January], “he said. “My focus this month is to get as many students [as possible] back in school so they don’t fall behind for the national exam,” he said. The exams, scheduled for the spring, determine whether students are able to advance to the next grade.

Despite the test's importance, teachers at MIN Pangwa say it will be crucial to ease students back to normalcy at their own pace.

“For example, we usually let the students go at 12pm, but today let’s see how it goes,” said one schoolteacher who preferred not to be named. “Many [children] are still dealing with trauma, so it is important we don’t push, that we remain flexible,” he added.

For his part, Rajwa says he is excited to start learning again, scary cracks notwithstanding. He dreams of becoming an Army soldier, and says school will help him get there.

“We’ve been out of school so long,” he said, eyes darting to the ground in front of him. “I’m still scared sometimes, but coming here makes me happy.” 

Students at MIN Pangwa line up to buy cheap sticks of a lunchtime beef sausage known as sosis © UNICEF Indonesia / 2017/ Cory Rogers