Child development experts and community members knew that getting children back to school following the tsunami would be one of the most important steps to helping tsunami-affected youth regain normalcy in their lives.
In many ways, this was not an easy task:
Nilakesuma, a 20-year veteran junior high school teacher, continues to teach at the same school as before the tsunami. Then, the school had 1,200 students, but now, only 700.
“Many died in the tsunami, others moved away,” she says. "Sometimes to other cities or villages away from the coast."
Confronting New Challenges
Before the tsunami, most children attended school regularly. In the tsunami's immediate aftermath, however, many youth could not go to school. Instead, they spent time helping within their families; their education was delayed.
Then, other problems started to emerge: a lack of transportation, shoes, uniforms or pocket money.
Sari, a teacher for four years, says that 200 students at her school were directly affected by the tsunami. Like other families who have had to relocate since the tsunami, “some children have trouble getting to school because they have no transportation,” she says.
Many nongovernmental organizations gave children school uniforms but sometimes there weren’t enough or they didn’t reach some areas.
|Nilakesuma (left) and Sari are among those teachers receiving instruction. |
And then there are the mental barriers. Some children said they didn't want to go to school, a place where the water mark on the walls had not yet been painted over — clear signs and reminders of the tsunami. When people talk about the tsunami, the affected children “start to look empty,” says Sari.
Sometimes the fear comes from the adults: parents who are afraid to let their children attend school or teachers who haven’t returned to their posts because of the recurring earthquakes.
While still living with fear because of the tsunami, children and youth also worry about earthquakes.
As of Oct. 13, 2005, Indonesia experienced 279 earthquakes; 90 in Aceh alone.
Problems created by the tsunami differ for children and adolescents.
“No matter how much you help the older ones, they will never forget, especially those living alone.”
And many youth are facing new economic hardships. While some of these youth are managing to stay in school, many are not. Teenage girls may be at home taking care of younger children, while the boys are out working, trying to support families.
A shortage of teachers and classrooms means overcrowding, or sometimes with teachers leading two classrooms simultaneously. Sari says that while her school was not affected by the tsunami — it did crack from the earthquake — she has more students in her classroom now because she is also teaching students from the camps for internally displaced persons.
The shortfall also means a less desirable learning environment for the children and higher stress for the teachers.
Through a grant from the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), ChildFund Indonesia, the emergency unit of CCF-Indonesia, is training teachers to better meet the needs of students, especially those still recovering from the effects of the earthquake and tsunami.
Making training of those teachers in the areas where it operates Child Centered Spaces a priority, ChildFund is using a training of trainers approach, with the goal of ultimately training 600 teachers of youth affected by disaster.
Training of Trainers: The Goals
The main goal of the teacher training program is to improve teacher understanding about child protection so they understand children's fundamental rights. As part of this training, ChildFund sought to give the teachers new knowledge, tools and skills to improve the learning experiences of children, especially those affected by the tsunami.
The program also motivated teachers to share their new knowledge and abilities with other teachers so that the effect of the training can be multiplied.
Training of Trainers: The Process
First, ChildFund Indonesia met with teachers to determine whether, so many months after the disaster and with other nongovernmental organizations working in the area, there was still a need for psychosocial training. The teachers had many practical questions about how to help the children get through the hard times and solve their own problems.
ChildFund staff members worked with the local department of education to recruit one teacher from each elementary and junior high school, as well as play groups and kindergartens, where ChildFund is active.
The three-day psychosocial training topics included:
- Signs of distress
- How children react to stress
- Communication with distressed children
- Children’s rights
- Child development
ChildFund has trained teachers from Banda Aceh, Aceh Besar and Meulaboh on how they can help students in the classroom cope and recover.
They also trained the teachers how to make the classroom a joyful, attractive space that for the children. Lastly, teachers learned how they could share their knowledge with their peers.
“The training was really good because we learned about how to handle problem students. We don’t just judge them as naughty now,” says Nilakesuma.
Training of Trainers: Spreading the Word
“Other teachers would benefit from the training also. I would be very pleased to train others so that they could share what we’ve learned and also get the benefits,” says Nilakesuma.
Almost a year after the disaster, there are signs of progress. Nilakesuma says she is inspired by the children’s willingness and motivation to go to school, and realizes that part of that enthusiasm comes from her and the other teachers. Children affected by the tsunami rarely smile, observes Sari, so “when I see them laughing, I feel hopeful … I don’t see as many sad faces as before."
"They realize their future is waiting for them.”