Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Love in the time of disaster

Matheos Viktor Messakh , The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Sat, 05/02/2009 10:40 PM | Lifestyle

Gufron Kamil never imagined that one month after the collapse of the Situ Gintung dam, he would be able to make a difference to his life from just a small amount of support.

But the dam collapse, which claimed 100 lives and destroyed hundreds of houses in Cireundeu, Tangerang, had a silver lining for the 17-year-old student.

Gufron, who lost his grandmother, uncle and niece in the catastrophe, is likely to feel much better with the results of his recent national exams, thanks to a remedial course beforehand.

"If there had not been the disaster, we might never have had this kind of course. We might have had to study on our own at home and have no one to ask if we had any difficulties," said Gufron, a student at Islamic high school Madrasah Aliyah Darul Ma'arif.

"If wasn't here I might have more trouble with the recent exams."

Gufron is one of 18 junior and senior high school students, and 11 elementary school children from the affected area of Cirendeu, Ciputat, who organized themselves, with the help of the Nurani Dunia Foundation, to prepare for the national exams, which were held April 20 to 24.

Since the dam collapsed on March 27, an abundance of aid in various forms was sent and among those rushing to help the victims were corporations, public figures and nearly all election candidates.

Some sent donations, while others attended the scene to make philanthropic gestures, such as organizing outings and entertainment events, to comfort the victims.

But sociologist-cum-philanthropist Imam Prasodjo, who is the chairman of the Nurani Dunia Foundation, did one little thing that turned into a big thing for these students: providing a shelter for final year students so they could prepare for the important national exams.

Nurani Dunia volunteer caretaker Iqbal said Imam Prasodjo had set up the shelter after visiting Cirendeu and talking to Mei Shinta, a high school student at the refugee camp.

According to Mei Shinta, Imam Prasodjo told her "I will try to help you get what you want but I need you to be able to organize yourself."

Mei Shinta and Gufron Kamil tried to find as many final-year students as they could, with help from some volunteers.

"We started with five people and later we had more than 20 people but some didn't want to come here," said Mei, who attended the Islamic high school Madrasah Aliyah 4 Jakarta.

The 17-year-old, who hopes to study communications at the University of Indonesia or at the Jakarta National University, said she and her friends struggled to find available information about students in the aftermath of the disaster.

"We found a list of the students in the disaster area but it was just a general list, which didn't identify what grade the students were in," said Mei.

Nurani Dunia bought these students shoes, clothes and books for school, but also, and most importantly, found them a place to study in preparation for the final exams, then just a few weeks away.

The foundation located a house in Pondok Pinang, South Jakarta, not far from the FedEx building. Knowing that the house would be used for "quarantine" for the Situ Gintung victims, the owner offered them use of the house for free until May 2.

"Luckily, the house has made them closer to their schools, which are located around South Jakarta," said Iqbal.

The foundation also received a lot of support for the study shelter, including food, beds, whiteboards and kitchen sets.

So, from early April, 18 high school students stayed and studied in the five-room house, far from the bad memories that surrounded them at the refugee camp. Three volunteers took turns to oversee them.

The shelter also provided volunteer tutors. At least five tutors from the state high school SMAN 8 Jakarta and from the Al-izhar Islamic school visited the house for three hours each day to help the students.

As for the sixth-grade elementary school children, who were considered too young to leave their parents, they just visited the shelter after school hours each day to attend tutorials.

The shelter also provided allowances for the children to go to school.

"We just tried to give these students what they really needed. We could give whatever they wanted but the national exam is crucial for them," said Gita Prasodjo from the Nurani Dunia Foundation.

If only the data on the students had been complete, said Gita, the foundation might have been able to help victims with more specific help.

However, these students have got the thing they needed to help keep their dreams alive: a little help to pass the exam, even while their parents remained concerned about their future, living in refugee camps in Kertamukti, in rented houses or with relatives.

"I am the eldest of four children and I feel obliged to make my family better off. But I also have a dream of studying mathematics at the School of Mathematics and Natural Science at the University of Indonesia," said Gufron, whose ambition is to become a math teacher.

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