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Last Updated: 09/16/2005
Helping Out
Sabrina Sideris

The earthquake on December 26, 2004 that measured at least 9.0 in magnitude and the catastrophic tsunami that followed fifteen minutes later affected nine countries bordering the Indian Ocean and took at least 22,000 lives across south Asia. Approximately 7,000 Indonesians died in the wake of the tsunami. One of the new students in the University for Peace’s Peace Education Programme, Dody Wibowo, comes to us from Indonesia, where he was in a position to offer help.


The earthquake’s epicenter and the area hardest hit was the western part of the Aceh province and the islands near it, which were devastated. Many villages that thrived before the water came were reduced to rubble and twisted metal. Because of a separatist insurgency, martial law had been enforced in the Aceh province, sealing it off from the rest of the nation and the world. But two days after the tsunami, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono canceled the rules that prohibited outsiders from visiting Aceh, enabling United Nations agencies, foreign aid groups and troops to hurry in and offer help.


So Dody left his home in Java to serve his neighbors. Since he had worked in Aceh with the World Health Organization offering workshops on the ways in which healthcare could serve as a bridge to peace, Dody had many friends in the medical community there. Sadly, when he tried to communicate with his friends, he found that some of them were missing or they had perished.


Thousands of Achenese were homeless, without adequate food or water. Time Magazine reported that one woman lost 7 of her 8 children and 38 members of her extended family. Most of the infrastructure in the region had been destroyed, so Dody and his colleagues, who specialize in education, focused on what they knew best. They worked with UNICEF and other international NGOs to train volunteer teachers who could work to revive the schools. They gathered writing utensils, books and other school supplies to replace what had been destroyed. They brought volunteers from Java and trained them as teachers, and prepared the educators to handle emergency situations and work in stressful environments dealing with post-traumatic symptoms.


Dody and his colleagues also brought nonviolence skills to the teachers in the Aceh province. According to MSNBC News, mediators persuaded the Indonesian government and Aceh rebels to meet for negotiations on a cease-fire, trying to forge peace out of the tsunami tragedy. Since long-term conflict over separatism created a culture of violence in the region, educators considered physical punishment an acceptable part of academic life. Some Aceh teachers punished students using physical abuse. So Dody’s team encouraged teachers to use nonviolent teaching tactics.


At the Kindergarten through high school levels, Dody and his colleagues made a difference in Indonesia by providing essential equipment and rebuilding the education system in Aceh. While they worked, the volunteers of Education for Aceh and North Sumatra cultivated relationships with members of the community and made sure they weren’t perceived as outsiders. The helpers lived in the community among the tsunami survivors. Dody and his team provided facilitation and support, helping the victims of devastation recover by asking, “What is best for you?” Teachers from Aceh were encouraged to be the owners of the rebuilding project. Step by step, they put their schools back together.


“We encouraged them to live again, in a new situation,” says Dody. “It is a lot, actually.”

Sabrina Sideris is a Master's Candidate at the University for Peace, studying Peace Education.