Tuesday, 9 July 2013

After the earthquake in Aceh, Indonesia – Putting a smile on children’s faces through learning and playing

Yusniate engages her daughter Liana
with a puzzle game inside UNICEF's
temporary learning centre.
© UNICEF Indonesia / 2013 / Juanda
BENER MERIAH, Indonesia, 9 July 2013 - "It was like kiamat, doomsday," – that’s how Yusniati (25), a coffee farmer from Serempah, Ketol, recalls what happened on 2 July when a powerful earthquake measuring 6.2 on the Richter scale ravaged villages in Bener Meriah and Aceh Tengah district in Indonesia. The quake in the province of Aceh left 39 people dead and more than 2,400 people injured.  "We were in the plantation, and we could feel the earth moving up and down.  The sound was incredibly loud," she says.

About 50,000 people from more than 12,000 households in over 70 different locations in the two districts have left their homes.  This includes families whose houses have not been damaged but who still prefer to camp outside, in fear of aftershocks.  Around one third of those affected are children, younger than 18 years of age.

“After what felt like 5 minutes of shaking, I saw friends and neighbours running around.  We saw some people trapped and crying for help.  Many people were bleeding, but we helped each other and finally we managed to move to an open space.  We were shocked and confused, and we still are," Yusniati adds.

Together with the Government of Indonesia, UNICEF is striving to give children and their families in the affected villages as much of a sense of normal life as possible.

Following a rapid assessment of the damage, the Education Department asked UNICEF to provide children with safe learning spaces to restore a sense of normalcy.

UNICEF set up four temporary learning centres in tents in Bener Meriah and Aceh Tengah, where children can play and learn. 41 more School-in-a-Box kits are on their way to the two districts.

"Most schools collapsed in the earthquake and I was not sure where students could study next week," says Evita, a volunteer teacher from Aceh Tengah, referring to the new school year which is supposed to start in mid-July. "But now I can see we have tents, and more tents are coming from UNICEF, and children can go back to school.”

Evacuated mothers and children in front of the learning centre,
which they named Pondok Anak Ceria (Cheerful Children's Hut)
© UNICEF Indonesia / 2013 / Juanda

"Since schools have been destroyed and the children are vulnerable, these temporary centres help them come together in one place and have an opportunity for learning and recreational activities," says the Acting Head of the UNICEF Field Office in Aceh, Umar bin Abdul Aziz. “These efforts are critical because education provides children with a sense of safety in times of chaos and crisis.”

UNICEF is also distributing a total of 70 School-in-a-Box kits, 35 recreation kits and 35 school tents for the upcoming school year.  Each School-in-a-Box kit provides exercise books, pens, pencils and other learning materials for as many as 40 children.

To continue life-saving activities in response to the Aceh earthquake, UNICEF urgently needs support to provide affected communities with timely and adequate assistance. Donate now.

The latest figures on the earthquake, as of 10 July 2013 (click for bigger picture)