Banda Aceh, Indonesia (January 26, 2005) — The sound of children’s laughter returned to Aceh today as schools in the tsunami- and quake-affected areas opened their doors for the first time since December 26. It was an emotional day for thousands of students, as they happily reunited with their classmates and sadly realized who was missing. One school in the region of Aceh Besar had 700 students before the tsunami hit; just 35 had enrolled for classes yesterday.
“We have to hope that these children are simply in a shelter in another district, or that they aren’t ready to come to school yet,” said Stephen Gwynne-Vaughan, the assistant director for CARE’s emergency response in Indonesia. “We do know that there were a lot of children killed in the disaster, but I can’t believe it is this many. We’re all waiting to see in the coming days what the enrollment will be.”
Returning to school — a safe and familiar setting — is a crucial step in helping children leave the memories of the disaster behind. But it’s hard to forget, and each crumbled building along the roads to the schools serves as a reminder. Children waited patiently this morning as work crews hosed down the classrooms, which were clogged with mud and debris brought in by the tsunami’s surge.
CARE will assist with the repair and rebuilding of schools in the coming months, making sure that all children can return to their studies. It will be a big challenge; in some areas, more than half of schools were destroyed.
“But this will also give us a chance to improve on what was there,” said Gwynne-Vaughan. Only 20 percent of schools in the affected areas had adequate latrines and washing facilities before the tsunami. In rebuilding schools, CARE will make sure that each school is built to the proper standards, with clean latrines and water sources.
“A common objective in disasters is: Don’t return an area to the way it was. We want to help rebuild, but also to improve the situation as much as possible with the resources available. That means a fresh start for the students.” It also means that the structures and the communities that use them will be better prepared to withstand a future disaster.