Aceh's next generation
BANDA ACEH, INDONESIA
For 6-year-old Feri, the journey from disaster to recovery has already lasted literally one-sixth of his entire life.Skip to next paragraph
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Before the Dec. 26, 2004, tsunami, Feri lived in a two-story brick-and-mortar house and enjoyed being spoiled by his three older siblings. He didn't bother much with chores, and his mother Juriah never pushed him too hard. He went to school in nearby Lampulo, surrounded by cousins and friends.
When readers first met Feri last April, he was a quiet child, often hiding behind his mother's skirt. Little wonder: He had lost his home and his older siblings to the waves. Feri's family is one of two in Indonesia that the Monitor has been following since the tragedy.
At the time, Feri's family had left a crowded relief camp and set out to rebuild their home themselves. The other family had chosen to wait in a tent for the aid programs to kick in. In the third part of this series, we examine whether the different paths to rebuilding chosen by their parents have made a difference in their young lives.
Feri's parents may have chosen to eschew the refugee camp and a handout, but the signs of outside help are visible all around his neighborhood. And he's reaping the benefits.
He sees homes being built around him by the aid group, CARE. He attends school in a barracks built by Coca-Cola, he eats food donated by the World Food Programme, and gets occasional vaccinations from UNICEF. In the afternoons, he goes to a play group organized by Save the Children as part of its Safe Play Area program.
With each new structured activity in his life, Feri's behavior improves and his former sullenness diminishes.
His schoolteacher, Siti Sofiah, says that her children - only five survivors from a class of 45 - have become harder to control after the tsunami. Some kids talk back, others have difficulty focusing on their studies. Many live in broken or single-parent families. Feri's best friend, Iqbal, lost his mother in the tsunami. Iqbal's father, like many widowers here, has since remarried, and Iqbal treats Feri's mother as a surrogate mother.
Feri shows few outward signs of stress that many displaced children of Aceh have - including bed-wetting, clinginess, nightmares, inability to concentrate, and bouts of extreme misbehavior.
He has all the energy of a boy his age, and a gift for working on bicycles. Around the house, he does a few chores like sweeping and making the beds. But his mother, Juriah, says he has also become more naughty since the tsunami, throwing tantrums, for example, when she doesn't give him money for candy.
Most people have coping mechanisms to deal with tragedy, says Marwan Hasibuan, coordinator for psychological programs in Banda Aceh, and host of a radio talk show that helps Acehnese deal with issues of stress.
"People call us up and tell us their children are misbehaving, or wet their beds, or cling to their parents," says Mr. Hasibuan. "We tell them, these are normal reactions to abnormal situations. It's not always going to be this way. People have resources inside them, but it takes time to draw that out, and to show people they have their own ability to cope."
Overall, the lot of children in Indonesia's troubled Aceh Province is slowly improving after a year-long outpouring of humanitarian aid. Two-hundred and fifty schools have been built, 15,000 temporary houses have been constructed, and 60 health clinics have helped to restore medical services in relief camps around the province.
All told, the global aid donor community has pledged nearly $7.1 billion in relief aid, with $4.3 billion of those commitments in the pipeline.
Yet progress is slow. Oxfam reported last week that - from India to Indonesia - only 20 percent of the 1.8 million people left homeless on Dec. 26 will have been permanently rehoused by the first anniversary. In Aceh, only 75,000 - out of 500,000 left homeless - have moved into temporary barracks. Hundreds of thousands are living with friends and relatives, and 67,000 are in tents.
"Every family, in one way or another, has been affected by this disaster," says Kerstin Fransson, head of child protection for the aid group, Save the Children. "The social fabric has broken down."
While Feri no longer hides behind his mother's skirt, he still lives in the same two-room shack built last spring by his father Alamsyah in a rubble-strewn area of Banda Aceh where a thriving neighborhood once stood.