Lombok earthquake update: a visit to our Duduk Atas school

Today our local partner and author, Mark Heyward, visited Duduk Atas. This is the village where our Lombok school is located. He wrote below blog about his visit. When Mark wrote this, Lombok got hit by 2 major eathquakes again. The community was hit hard, but surprisingly the community is very strong – even after the lossess it has to deal with.

It is a quiet Sunday morning on the west coast of Lombok. August is the dry season. The sky is a deep blue and the ocean even bluer. I am on my way up the hill behind Senggigi to visit Duduk Atas, a small primary school which clings to the slopes of one of Gunung Rinjani’s volcanic foothills. The school, now called Sekolah Dasar 6, Batu Layar, began its life fifteen years ago on the veranda of the village mosque. Before that, most of the villagers never got to school. Most were destined for life as illiterate, itinerate labourers.

Lombok spirit

The school at Duduk Atas has grown since then. It currently has 107 children and 15 teachers. In the spirit of ‘gotong royong’ (an Indonesian term, meaning that everyone helps to achieve a shared goal), the whole community has built the school. Beginning with the inspiration of Pak Aini, as neighbourhood head, the community has supplied labour and volunteer teachers. The government licensed the school and has built some of the classrooms; it now provides a principal and two teachers. The Lombok Rotary Club together with local businesses, such as The Studio guesthouse, has contributed. And Face This has supported the school at Duduk Atas since 2008. Duduk Atas is a poor community, but rich in spirit; a community with friends.

Much has changed since those early days when we first got involved with the school and its community. The steep path that winds up to the school, a 45 minute walk from the road, is now paved for much of the way. I walk, puffing and panting, up the steep section, my eyes on the rough concrete path ahead and huge views of the green hills and the Lombok Strait behind me. Bali, to the west, is already fading in a distant morning haze. Pak Mahuddin, the school principal, waits at a little bamboo warung (shop) at the top of the steep section. From here I ride on the back of his bike, bumping along the narrow path beneath tall trees and coconut palms. Concrete pillars have been erected at intervals, waiting for the cable which will provide electricity to this isolated village.

Lombok earthquakes

But the peaceful morning and these signs of development hide another reality. The volcanic geology which makes the island of Lombok so fertile, can also be violent. Over the last two weeks, Lombok has been shaken by three massive earthquakes and over 30 smaller tremors and shakes. Last night I was woken twice by shudders. As I write this, another shake, measuring 6.4 on the Richter Scale, rocks the island.

Lombok has a population of around three million. Most are farmers or fishing folk. Many rely on tourism for their income. According to government data, 894 schools across the island have been badly damaged or destroyed. 1529 classrooms are unusable and need to be rebuilt. 106,698 children are impacted, most now living in makeshift tents, under tarpaulins (data from Ministry of Education & Culture, August 16th 2018). The scale of the disaster is beyond comprehension: as of 15th August, 460 deaths, and nearly 8,000 injuries. 420,000 people are living in temporary shelters. 72,000 homes have been damaged – 32,000 of these destroyed (data from the national disaster agency, BNPB).

Images on social media of destroyed villages, crumbled mosques, and shattered schools begin to give meaning to the statistics. But it is the stories of individuals that really help to make some sense of what has happened. I arrived back in Lombok a few days ago and set about the business of inspecting our home, The Studio, our office and school, Sekolah Nusa Alam. All are intact. Only minor repairs required. We are blessed. But, as the numbers show, many are not so fortunate.

Conditions of the school after the two earthquakes

I arrive at the school with Pak Mahuddin and we meet Pak Aini, the founder of the school. It is some years since we have met; he has been away working on the palm oil plantations of Malaysia, trying to make some money to support his family. We greet with warm smiles and firm handshakes. Together with Pak Mahuddin we inspect the condition of the school. It is a Sunday so school is closed – but then, it has been basically closed for two weeks since the earthquakes began.

Many cracks and fractures are evident, broken tiles, ceilings, windows; but the main classroom blocks and the terracing and retaining walls on which they rest are basically sound. We talk about how to repair the damage so that the building will withstand another earthquake. The recently constructed library, which is in use as a kindergarten room, has not fared so well. The building still stands but deep fractures on the walls show that the building is unsound and unsafe. The risk is that the building would collapse in another big shake.

Pak Saifurahman, who teaches Grade 4, arrives. A young man with a bright smile, he tells me about how his house has half-collapsed and how he, like many, is living in a tent with his family. When the shaking eventually stops, some will return to their homes. Many are sleeping outdoors for fear of earthquakes, traumatized by the continual shaking. But many others, like Pak Saifurahman, will not be able to return to their homes. The government has pledged support of Rp50 million (3000 Euro) to rebuild such homes – but how soon will the money arrive? And what if you lived in rented accommodation? And what about when the monsoon rains arrive in September or October?

The Duduk Atas village on Lombok

Around the village, the damage is patchy. Some homes are totally destroyed, others partially, and others appear untouched. Some families are living in tents. A bunch of school kids is playing on the terraced area in front of the school. The spirit of childhood is undiminished as they kick a soccer ball around in the dirt. It is heartening to watch the rough-and-tumble play as I chat to Zam Zam, an older boy, who is taking care of Siti, his little cousin.

Zam Zam (cool name, I think to myself!) is a smart looking lad, well-groomed, with intelligent eyes. He speaks with confidence. ‘I am now in second year of junior high school,’ he says proudly, ‘what I most love to study is reading.’ A graduate of Duduk Atas, who knows where Zam Zam would be if the community had not got behind Pak Aini’s vision of establishing a school on the hill, if Face This had not come to help?  

We are all the same

The village head stops by for a chat. With funds from Face This we agree to provide tarpaulins for a temporary kindergarten. We provide emergency food parcels for all the teachers, most of whom earn a tiny income as ‘honorary’ teachers, and many of whom are living rough. It is only a beginning. Temporary assistance. The real task is to help these people rebuild their lives, their community, their school. Over coming weeks we will determine how much the government can provide, from its limited resources, to rebuild the broken school. How much the international community can help. What the community can do for themselves. And together we will make a plan to make the school safe and comfortable again for learning.

Pak Saifurahman looks at me with that bright smile of his. ‘We are all fellow humans,’ he says. ‘Whether we are rich or poor, whether we are from Holland or Australia or Lombok, whether we are Muslim or Christian – we are all human beings, right? We are all the same.’

Support Duduk Atas

Please support the Duduk Atas area on Lombok! You can do that by wearing one of our special edition T-shirts (pictured above and the tee is also available for men’s), designed by British designer Jimmy Turrell, who created the latest album cover for Beck and directed several music videos with the artist by using a drawing made by a pupil of the Duduk Atas school. Or just make a donation. All help is needed! Just go to our Lombok Relief page and support the community!

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