Rebuilding a tsunami-struck school

When a tsunami struck Indonesia in December 2004, thousands died – including Juli Hanfi’s mother. We couldn’t bring her back, but we could rebuild the school where Juli worked as an Arabic teacher – and nine years later, it’s running stronger than ever.

2004 was a year of disaster for the Indonesian island of Aceh. Hit first by an earthquake, then by a super tsunami, over 100,000 people lost their lives.

In Lhok Nga, the junior high school, Madrasa Thanaweeya – located close to the shore – was decimated. Within minutes, only three of the 12 classrooms, which had served nearly 300 students, were still standing. Many of the school’s teachers and students lost homes, possessions and even family members.

We were at home, then people told us the ocean was rising up and we needed to go to the mosque,” said Juli Hafni, Madrasa Thanaweeya’s Arabic teacher. “My brothers and father made it to the mosque quickly, but my mother, sister, nephew and I trailed, and got caught up in the water. We drifted towards a tree, so my sister and I climbed it. My mother and other sister were separated from us.”

For a while, Juli didn’t know what had happened to the rest of her family. She and her sister clung to the tree-top until the next morning, when it was finally safe to come down. Reunited with their mother several days later, they found her exhausted and weakened by the tsunami – already suffering from diabetes, she fell ill and passed away on a Friday.

Nine years later, Juli’s life is almost back to normal, thanks to Islamic Relief. Though we can never replace her mother, we could rebuild the school she loved and worked at.

Islamic Relief reconstructed and furnished the nine destroyed classrooms at Madrasa Thanaweeya, as well training nine additional teachers – there are now 27 in total – to cater for even more students than before the tsunami. As well as the academic subjects, students learn traditional Indonesian music and dance, and the school imam gives khutbahs (sermons) during assemblies.

Thank you to Islamic Relief, and everyone around the world who helped the school and the tsunami survivors,” says Juli. “Education is very important – and now, everything is okay. Everything is back to normal.