Trauma, food scarcity keep children away from schools

Rangga D. Fadillah, The Jakarta Post, Mentawai/West Sumatra | Wed, 11/03/2010 9:35 AM | The Archipelago

Eight days after an earthquake-triggered tsunami hit the Mentawai Islands, education activities have not yet returned to normal.

Many parents are still too traumatized to allow their children away from them, according to one school principal.

Joni Faldi, head of the Sikakap Islamic Elementary School, told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday that only half of 164 students attended school that day.

Many parents were still cautious about the possibility of another quake or tsunami, he said.

“Many parents and children are still traumatized. Therefore, in today’s class volunteers will focus on counseling students,” he added.

Other students temporarily had to study at a nearby mosque because their class rooms were used as bases for volunteers.

Monster waves swept coastal areas of the islands last week, leaving 427 people dead and 75 missing.

Joni said that he had tried to convince parents that the school was prepared for the possibility of future disasters because it had instructed students on methods of dealing with emergency situations and had conducted evacuation drills.

“I believe that all students here are well-trained to face disasters. We’re sure we can minimize casualties,” he said.

However, trauma does not seem to be the only factor deterring school activities. Poor conditions at refugee camps with insufficient food have exacerbated the situation.

Data reported by the Sikakap district Disaster Mitigation Center reports that more than 14,000 people have been displaced by the disaster and are now taking shelter at the camps.

They come from 24 tsunami-affected hamlets in four Mentawai Islands districts: North Pagai, South Pagai, Sikakap and South Sipora.

Naho, 45, a resident of Purourogat hamlet in South Pagai district, said that he and his three children were too busy seeking food for his family that is now living at a refugee camp near the hamlet.

“We can’t think about school now. The only thing we can think of is how we can find proper food to survive,” he said.

The fisherman said that none of the fishermen in his hamlet were ready to brave the sea just yet.

“It would be suicidal to go to sea now because the current extreme whether is generating huge waves, reaching up to five meters,” he said.

Purourogat hamlet has an elementary school located on a hill 300 meters from the hamlet. The school survived the quake and tsunami, but as of Tuesday classroom activities had not resumed.

Schoolchildren were also conspicuously absent at Bake hamlet, South Pagai district, but for worse reasons. The school they used to attend was flattened by the tsunami.

“The school was only a hundred meters from shore. Now its gone,” Bake hamlet chief Mangantar told the Post.

Food scarcity and post-disaster trauma have made parents temporarily step back from prioritizing their children’s education, Mangantar said.

As of Tuesday the hamlet had still not received any of the relief aid being distributed from Sikakap
district.

“We are running out of food. We even don’t have coconuts, which usually serve as alternative nutrition,” he said, adding that his hamlet was in a dire need disaster relief to ensure the survival of 142 residents.

Extreme whether and high seas have frustrated efforts to distribute aid. Relief supplies are being transported by helicopters.


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