Indonesian Children Who Fled Mt. Merapi Miss Their Homes

by Martin Hayes, ChildFund Child Protection Specialist
Reporting from the field

Natural disasters have become a part of life for Indonesians. Recurring earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions have caused hundreds of thousands of casualties and internally displaced people during the last five years. Despite this precarious situation, Indonesians are incredibly resilient and are quick to try to resume their lives shortly after a disaster.

On Oct. 26 an active volcano in Central Java erupted causing thick ash to fall within a 30- km (18-mile) radius, resulting in 280,000 residents evacuating to government-run shelters.

ChildFund mounted an immediate response to assist affected communities, some of which have sponsored children. Our initial response was to search for and help sponsored children and their families to relocate safely. As families began arriving in shelters, ChildFund staff provided basic needs. We also have established centers for children that provide them with caring support as well as learning and recreational activities.

I arrived on Nov. 19 to assist ChildFund Indonesia’s Emergency Response Team in strengthening their activities and preparing for medium- and longer-term program plans. Since arriving I’ve visited some of the sites where displaced families are living.

At one of the larger camps, thousands of people are occupying a stadium in Sleman District. Families are living on mats on the floor, surrounded by the few possessions that they’ve managed to bring with them. ChildFund has claimed some space in one of the first-floor hallways to set up a child-centered space with games and art supplies, providing youngsters a refuge from the crowded stadium.

“About 200 children come to the center each day to play, draw and learn to read,” ChildFund’s project assistant Yusnita Ike tells me. “These children stay at the center for most of the day and enjoy the space to play with others their age.”

Structured activities help restore a sense of normalcy for children, which, in turn, helps relieve the enormous stress that they’ve experienced. “Through teaching literacy skills,” Yusita says, “we’ve found that some children age 7 to 11 can’t read. After speaking with their parents we’ve found that they were not attending school. This may be the first opportunity for them to acquire literacy skills.”

I later speak with a few young children at the center. Nisa won a prize for a drawing contest held earlier that day. She is 8 years old and loves to dance and to learn English. Nisa enjoys coming to the center. However, she tells me, “I miss home because I miss my friends and going to school.”

Like many others, Nisa also dislikes the lack of privacy at the stadium. Families sleep in the open hallways side by side with many others. Women and girls in particular are bothered by the lack of privacy that makes going to the toilet or bathing problematic.

I also spoke with Frenqui, who is 10. Frenqui was a little disappointed that he didn’t win the drawing contest, but says he will continue to draw. He likes drawing mountains. When asked “why mountains?” he replies: “Because they are easy to draw.” He used to draw red fire on the top of the mountains. But now he draws with blue markers on the top “because the volcano has cooled down.” Frenqui saw the lava the night his family fled from their home. “It was very scary,” he says. His family ran with just their clothes.

Frenqui likes coming to the child-centered space to play games. He’s learning to read. Yet, he misses home. He tells me that it’s hot in the stadium and he misses his friends who have likely fled to other camps. He also misses going to school and taking baths.

ChildFund is preparing to help displaced families to return home safely and to resume their lives. To help ChildFund respond to the Mt. Merapi disaster, please consider a donation to the ChildAlert Emergency Fund.

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