Monday, 15 December 2014

Surviving the tsunami, creating a better future

17-weeks pregnant and carrying her three-year-old daughter at the time, Rosna credited her survival to a TV programme about tsunami that made her aware of what was coming after the powerful earthquake. © UNICEF Indonesia/2014/Achmadi

JANTHO, Indonesia, October 2014 - Rosna was saved from the tsunami by her television. She had seen a nature programme about earthquakes and volcanoes and seismic activity. When she felt the large quake that preceded and caused the Indian Ocean tsunami on 26th December 2004, she suspected what might be about to happen.

17 weeks pregnant with her second child at the time, she ran from her house in Banda Aceh, carrying her three-year-old daughter Cut Rachmina with her. Although caught up in the water, she managed to reach higher ground without injury and was eventually reunited with her husband Johansyah, who had also managed to escape.

The disaster wiped out most of Banda Aceh, but Rosna’s family was extremely lucky to survive. Their home, however, had been destroyed. They had no water, no food and could not save any of their possessions. In the space of a few hours they had gone from house owners to IDPs – internally displaced people. A makeshift tent became their home.


Almost ten years have passed since then. On a sunny Friday morning, in the garden of her home, Rosna is surrounded by a gaggle of pre-schoolers singing nursery rhymes and learning to count to ten. Others play nearby on swings and a slide.

Here in a settlement created by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) for victims of the tsunami, Rosna has created her own Early Childhood Development centre, with support from UNICEF.

Cut Rachmina, her daughter is now 12 years old. Arief, born five months after the tsunami, is nine. Both are at school while Akbar, the youngest who is barely one year old, sits on his mother’s hip.

“After the tsunami, I wanted to do something for the traumatised families, especially the children,” she says. “It’s a pleasure to have all these children playing here every day.”

Rosna exercises with her pupils at the Early Childhood Development centre in Jantho on Friday, Sept 5, 2014. She set up the centre in 2006 with the support of UNICEF. © UNICEF Indonesia/2014/Achmadi

It has taken a lot of work to create this happy scene out of the devastation of the tsunami. Rosna’s family at first stayed in an IDP camp in Banda Aceh where aftershocks continued to cause panic in the weeks and months after the tsunami.

In May 2005, after Arief was born, the family of four moved to a different IDP camp in Jantho, a small town in the hills about an hour’s drive from Banda Aceh.

Cut Rachmina and Arief attended a children’s centre in the camp, which had been set up by UNICEF. The children were introduced to puzzles and games and were encouraged to draw and paint to help them deal with the trauma of the tsunami.

In the aftermath of the catastrophe, UNICEF established 21 children’s centres across Aceh to provide immediate support for those affected by the disaster.

As well as the kind of educational and psychosocial support that Rosna’s children received, the centres also registered more than 2,000 unaccompanied children to help reunite them with surviving family members. Together with the Ministries of Social Affairs and Women’s Empowerment, provincial institutions and Muhammadiyah, the country’s second largest Islamic organization, the children’s centres organized tracing of families and launched campaigns to promote public awareness of child rights issues. Staff helped to protect the most vulnerable children from being trafficked and exposed to violence.

Six of the centres still function today, as part of the government’s social welfare services.

In the aftermath of the catastrophe, UNICEF established 21 children centres across Aceh to provide immediate support for those affected by the disaster. The centres also registered more than 2,000 unaccompanied children to help reunite them with surviving family members. © UNICEF Indonesia/2014/Achmadi

After a year in the tented camp, Rosna and her family were offered a house in a settlement created by IOM. The family wanted to leave behind their life in a tent and return to living in a house. But Rosna had seen what an important role the children’s centre had played in the early education of her son and daughter. She decided to establish an Early Childhood Development centre in her new home.

UNICEF provided equipment and allowances for volunteers so that Rosna could set up on her own ECD centre in 2006. Built on the grounds of Rosna’s new house, the centre now caters for 33 two to six year-olds and employs five assistants.

“If this facility weren’t here, mothers would take their children to the rice paddies or the market where they work,” says Rosna.

Instead the children learn how to count and read. They get the chance to draw, paint and play with others of a similar age.

After the tsunami, UNICEF supported the establishment of ECD centres and related training programmes for cadres (volunteers) in a number of districts in Aceh. Thanks to the intervention, the gross enrolment rate in ECD programmes increased to 42 per cent (2013) in Aceh province, significantly higher than the national average of less than 30 per cent.

At the centre, children are introduced to puzzles and games and encouraged to draw and paint to help them deal with the trauma of the tsunami. © UNICEF Indonesia/2014/Achmadi

After opening the children’s centre, Rosna formalised her qualifications, studying for a degree in Education in Banda Aceh. She would travel the 100 kilometre round-trip every day by motorbike, even when pregnant with her youngest child, finally graduating in 2013.

Rosna has more plans for the centre. While children play happily in the garden or one of the two classrooms, workmen push wheelbarrows of cement at the side of the property. They’re busy building latrines so the children will have proper sanitation and hand washing facilities.

Rosna also hopes to build a library on the plot.

“I just want to work hard so I can realise my dreams,” she says.