Tue, 22 Jul 2003

Students brave war to go back to school

Tertiani ZB Simanjuntak and Nani Farida The Jakarta Post Banda Aceh/Lhokseumawe

On the first day of school on Monday in war-torn Aceh, an elementary school teacher was shot to death, and more than 107,000 students had classes in emergency tents and small mosques.

Elementary school teacher Ibrahim, 52, was shot dead by two unidentified gunmen on his way to school in Matang Mei village, Paya Bakung district, North Aceh. The resident of Arun Geulompang Tujuh village was fatally shot in the head and stomach.

The military claimed the gunmen were members of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM).

Early on Sunday, elementary school principal Saodah, 50, was assaulted and killed at her home in Bangka Jaya village, Krueng Geukeuh, also in North Aceh, allegedly by GAM members. Her journalist husband Idrus Jeumpa and their daughter Yusniar Octavia suffered serious injuries in the incident. Yusniar is a teacher at the school and also a correspondent for Waspada daily in Medan, North Sumatra.

Saodah, the principal of elementary school SD 3 Krueng Geukueh, later died at a medical clinic belonging to the ASEAN- Aceh Fertilizer plant.

The family was attacked as they refused to hand over Rp 20 million (US$2,439) to the perpetrators.

Because of security fears, most schools did not raise the national flag, as is customary on Mondays.

Chadijah Rasyid, principal of state-run Islamic elementary school at Krueng Baroh Babah Krueng, Peusangan district, Bireuen, said that they would restart the ceremony "if the situation allows".

Despite the terrible and sometimes life-threatening condition, more than 107,000 elementary and junior high school students, some of whom were still living in refugee camps, welcomed the new academic year and attended classes with enthusiasm.

Uiskarni, student of state-run elementary school in Tanoh Abee Seulim village, Aceh Besar regency, said that despite the emergency situation, he would continue going to school because this was his last year of elementary school.

Uiskarni, who carried several notebooks in a bag from Unicef, said he and other students sat on the bare ground while teachers conducted lessons.

"We don't have textbooks yet, and today we have several drills to do and then we finish class," he said. Uiskarni wants to be a doctor when he grows up.

He said his teacher was teaching three classes simultaneously, as several teachers were still in their home villages.

It was not clear whether they were there by choice, or if they were banned from leaving the villages by security forces.

More than 130 students at an Islamic elementary school in Lampako 2, Tanoh Abee, Aceh Besar regency, started the new school year at a small mosque. "Four classes are held in the morning and two other classes are held at noon," school principal Badriati said.

She regretted that the local administration had not paid any attention to her school, and said she had received no aid since the school -- along with hundreds of other schools -- was torched on May 19, the day the military operation was launched.

She also said that some of her students had to transfer to a state-run elementary school nearby.

Badriati said she was proud of the students who came to school despite the war and the poor condition of the educational setting.

"We don't want to disappoint them, and most teachers are committed to holding classes in emergency tents and meunasah (small mosques)," she said.

Nurul, who is in the fourth grade, asked the government to "please rebuild our school and please help families in the camps".

Hundreds of families across the province have taken refuge in temporary camps, which are facing severe shortages of clean water, lack of medical facilities, respiratory diseases and poor sanitary conditions. The majority of humanitarian aid packages from foreign NGOs have failed to reach the refugees.

A total of 583 schools have been deliberately set on fire since the government launched the military offensive to crush the separatist movement.

Spokesman for the martial law administration Col. Ditya Soedarsono said on Monday that the government had "restored 542 schools that had been burnt down by rebels over the last two months".

"But, many schools that were damaged by rebels have yet to be rehabilitated because of the difficult situation," he said without elaborating.