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School Opening is Music to His Ears

Indonesia, January 25, 2005

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    Local workers, employed by Mercy Corps' cash-for-work program, clean up the Pesantran Inshaffudin school. Photo: Kira Kay/Mercy Corps Photo:

Amir is a teacher of tradional Acehnese music and dance at the Pesantren Inshaffudin in Banda Aceh, Indonesia. A pesantren is a religious boarding school attended by children of junior and senior high school age. In 2003, Amir's class of fifth graders won a locally prestigious award at the annual North Sumatra arts festival. He loves his job, and he loves his students.

On the morning of December 26th, Amir was preparing himself and his students for regular morning physical exercises. At 8 am, they felt the earthquake hit, and he quickly gathered all the students in the courtyard of the pesantren complex.

He and his fellow staff members were frantically trying to reach the parents of their students, urging them to come pick up their children for safekeeping, when they heard a noise they thought was a car or even a plane. It was the water. He and the children ran, although one little girl was ill and couldn't run fast enough. The other children reached safety, but she didn't, and the image haunts Amir.

When Amir visited the pesantren recently, he heard that Mercy Corps was sponsoring a clean up and felt he had to participate: not only because he is a Muslim and that is his responsibility, but because when the students return to class, he doesn't want any physical reminders of the trauma to cause them to suffer flashbacks. He worries greatly about their mental health. Amir wants a fresh start for his students and for the school.

Thanks to Mercy Corps, he thinks the school can be even better than before, with new supplies and even computers. Helping do the clean up work - which is run primarily though Mercy Corps’ cash-for-work program - makes him feel happy again, and he will be very satisfied when the students return and his work is accomplished.

On the third morning of the pesantren clean up, Amir discovered his music equipment in one of the rooms being cleaned by Mercy Corps workers. He and two others picked up a flute and some drums, and spontaneously performed for the other 100 or so workers at the work site during their morning coffee break.

The faces of the workers showed their clear joy at getting this musical pick-me-up in the midst of such physically and emotionally difficult labor (three bodies had been found in the debris just that morning) and Amir himself beamed with pride as he basked in the applause.