Returning to school helps begin the healing process
Published: Tuesday, January 11, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 10, 2005 at 11:40 p.m.
ACEH BESAR, Indonesia - Children returned to school in this rural Indonesian district Monday, some in freshly cleaned uniforms, others raggedy in bare, muddy feet. Many remained edgy two weeks after southern Asia's earthquake and tsunami catastrophe.
Teachers put aside regular lessons and focused on healing.
"Today we're just teaching them how to pray in these difficult times," said Sutrisini, the principal of Guegajah Elementary School, who like most Indonesians uses only one name. She said normal lessons wouldn't resume for weeks.
Classes also restarted in Sri Lanka, where somber youngsters at some schools stood silently among empty desks to remember fellow students and teachers killed by the Dec. 26 waves. Other schools were jammed from an influx of refugee children whose villages were destroyed.
Schools that got going were crowded in Indonesia's hard-hit Aceh province, where officials said Monday that 420 schools had been destroyed and 1,000 teachers killed. The area on Sumatra island was closest to the quake that sent huge waves crashing into coastal communities around the Indian Ocean.
U.N. officials estimated up to half of the 104,000 dead on Sumatra were children, and large aftershocks Monday from the Dec. 26 quake aggravated survivors' fears, undermining government efforts to bring back some sense of normalcy, especially for youngsters. Many parents kept their children home.
Although the tsunami didn't reach this inland district a few miles from the ravaged provincial capital of Banda Aceh and few of its children were killed by earthquake damage, only about half the regular 130 students showed up at Guegajah Elementary.
But some 60 bedraggled refugee kids also joined in. The children crowded into two rooms, because homeless families from the coast are being housed in its four other classrooms.
One of the refugees, Syarita, a 15-year-old, said she lost five members of her extended family when the tsunami swamped her island just off Aceh's coast. She hoped returning to class and pursuing her ambition of becoming a doctor would help her forget her terrifying run to the top of a hill ahead of the rising waters.
"I'm a kid and I need to go to school," Syarita said. "I have nothing now. I'm working for the future."
Teachers held a similar hope. "By opening the schools, we're just trying to make the kids happy. They're so depressed," Principal Sutrisini said.
"It's a brave gesture to set the mark out there by opening the schools," said Gordon Weiss, a UNICEF spokesman. "It's symbolic for the people."
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