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Indonesia: "unsung hero" gets Aceh children back to school

09-08-2006 Feature

An Acehnese teacher has resurrected a school amidst the ruins of the original school building, which was destroyed during the conflict between the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM). He finds strength in his belief in the value of education and the support of others, including the ICRC. His story is described by ICRC employee Ivy Susanti.

For M. Amin, also known as Sofyan, education must continue even at the height of conflict, because it prepares children to face the future. Such conviction has motivated him to use whatever means he could muster to provide schooling for the children of his conflict-torn home village of Sejahtera in Nurussalam sub-district in eastern Aceh.

  © ICRC / G. Primagotama    
  Sofyan, the primary school teacher in Sejahtera village in Nurussalam sub-district, East Aceh. Sofyan started a classroom in the ruins of the damaged school building, pictured in the background, 28.06.2006    

Sofyan, a primary school teacher and father of three, started classes among the ruins of the old school building in January 2006. The building was burned down in 1990 and again in 2000 during the intense conflict between the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM). The residents were forced to abandon Sejahtera in 2000 and only returned after both parties to the conflict signed the Helsinki peace agreement in 2005.

The recovery process, however, has not been plain sailing. Sofyan could not rebuild the school due to lack of funds, so he put up tarpaulins to serve as walls for the destroyed classrooms. Unfortunately, this wasn't a great success.

" When it rained, the tarpaulin roof leaked and the children had to quit the classes and run for cover. That is why I asked the ICRC for assistance, " said Sofyan, who comes from the neighbouring Idi Rayeuk sub-district.

The ICRC soon delivered additional tarpaulins and other construction materials to repair the school.

  © ICRC / G. Primagotama    
  A classroom in the destroyed school in Sejahtera village. The room was heavily damaged and had no roof. Sofyan covered it with tarpaulins until the ICRC provided iron sheeting, 28.06.2006    

" The contribution may be very modest but the most important thing to me is that it helped to put a smile on children's faces, " he said.

When the ICRC first reached the village in March 2006, Sofyan and his family were the only inhabitants still living there. His first students came from neighbouring villages. As the number of residents grew, the ICRC began distributing farming and construction tools to the villagers.

There are three volunteers who help Sofyan with the teaching. To many Indonesians, teaching is not a preferred career choice as it offers little income. Nonetheless, Indonesians hail teachers as " unsung heroes " , a mark of respect for their dedication.

" I don't expect teachers will come here to help us. They will hesitate because this is a relatively new area and there is no paved road, " said Sofyan, a graduate from a teacher training school in Langsa.

His greatest joy is to see his pupils'eagerness to study. " The children are very enthusiastic. The y are usually ready to start at 7 a.m. " Sofyan proudly mentions that one of his three children has just graduated from the school.

This is the second time that Sofyan has taken on the Herculean task of reopening the school. The building was first destroyed in 1990 but he managed to reopen it and bring together 13 students. Over the years, the number of students has swelled to more than 100.

Sofyan and his family had already left the area when the school was burned down for a second time in 2000. " It was a dangerous situation back then. We left before something bad happened to us. "

Because of the harsh living conditions, Sofyan said that grateful parents usually offer produce or food instead of money as a token of appreciation. Their support and that of institutions like the ICRC have bolstered his determination to teach the village children how to build a promising future.