Education International
Education International

EI Tsunami Student Tour – A life changing experience

published 9 March 2007 updated 9 March 2007

"I could never have anticipated what I experienced whilst I was in Banda Aceh", said Martin Jones, 17, from the UK as he returned from the EI Tsunami Student Tour to Banda Aceh.

Student Tour bus

Martin and 11 other international students from the UK, Japan, Australia and the Netherlands between the ages of 17 and 24, were invited, together with their teachers and Deputy General Secretary, Ms Christine Blower from NUT (UK), by Education International to visit Aceh, Indonesia, from 19-24 February 2007. All the students were nominated by EI Member organizations (AEU, Australia; AOb, the Netherlands; NASUWT & NUT, UK; JTU, Japan) and were active participants in raising contributions to the EI Tsunami Solidarity Fund which were used to support the EI/Oxfam International-Novib Tsunami Reconstruction Programme in Aceh. This programme comprises the reconstruction of 28 primary schools, including furniture and school equipment, the provision of trauma counseling training for returning teachers, teacher in-service training on curricular issues, as well as the provision of scholarships to 4000 students over a two year period. With a small staff of only six people, Mr. Jerome Fernandez, EI’s coordinator in the Aceh Project Office, is implementing and coordinating this programme. A great deal has been achieved despite the extremely difficult circumstances that surround the reconstruction process. So far 15 schools have been completed of which 11 have already classes in session. Another three schools will be finalized by the end of this month. Out of 4000 students 3534 already received a scholarship which enables these students - mostly orphans - to go to school and start a normal life again after the traumatizing experiences which they all went through. The number of teacher training and trauma counseling courses has already exceeded by far the envisaged target number, as the demand is very high. The EI programme is unique in respect of the fact that it provides a full package. It covers not only the provision of schools but also addresses three other major difficulties the education system in Aceh is confronted with:

  1. Compensating for the loss of a whole generation of trained teachers – more than 2300 teachers died - through teacher training
  2. Supporting traumatized students and teachers through trauma counseling courses
  3. Providing students who lost their parents or whose families have no means to send them to school with scholarships

The idea behind organizing such a tour was to provide the international students with an opportunity to see at first hand what their money had been used for and to witness personally the progress made in the reconstruction of schools and the impact these schools have not only on the students but on Acehnese communities. By doing this, EI hopes to build understanding and positive relations between the international and Acehnese students through further exchanges of information and experience.

International and Acehnese students in front of reconstructed school

The tour which was headed by EI’s Chief Regional Coordinator in Asia, Mr. Aloysius Mathews, comprised visits to the EI reconstructed schools, to the barracks where Tsunami victims are still living, cultural visits, a meeting with the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Agency - BRR, and visits to Tsunami affected areas and the housing reconstruction sites. The tour exceeded the expectations of all participants and was seen by many as a life- changing experience. It not only raised awareness among the participants of the whole situation in Aceh which is still marked by devastation and poverty, but it also showed the hope the newly built schools provide for students and the communities.

“I wish that I could have another chance to see all those children’s faces which were so full of enthusiasm and hope again!” said Emily Jones from the UK, when thinking back to the kids she met in the EI reconstructed schools. “I have heard the stories that the children, teachers and pupils my age have to tell me about the tsunami and their experiences. I am amazed by the sheer optimism of the children and the dedication that the students have for learning, it makes me realise how well off I am and how I should be so grateful for my family, friends and education.” Phuoc Huynh from Australia summarised her experience by saying “This trip has been a great eye opener for me and it had made me appreciate more things”. “In most cases it is not the job of trade unions to rebuild schools. But this was an exceptional situation and extraordinary challenges need extraordinary work – this has been done here by EI!” concluded NUT Deputy General Secretary, Ms Christine Blower, after the tour. In the view of EI this student tour has been a great success. It has provided an opportunity for young people to view at first hand the beneficial impact which well-planned, well-organised assistance based on collaboration and cooperation between people, can have, even in the most difficult of circumstances. The tour has also opened the door for further cooperation among the schools, students and teachers!