Nias schoolchildren forced to work amid uncertainty

Friday, April 8, 2005
By nias

Friday, April 08, 2005 Evi Mariani, The Jakarta Post, Gunung Sitoli

Yeniria Telemanua, 12, and her brother Natalius, 9, started off on the two-hour, 10-kilometer journey from the hilly area where their parents grow water spinach and cassava leaves to Beringin market in Gunung Sitoli.

The elementary school students have not been in school since the 8.7-magnitude earthquake late last month forced the administration to temporarily close all schools in Muawe village, Gunung Sitoli district.

The scrawny pair are among hundreds of children living on higher ground, who must work to help their parents due to the disaster.

They wake up at 7 a.m., not to go to school but to transport vegetables from their small farms to Gunung Sitoli's markets.

The quake destroyed their home, forcing them to live in temporary shelters.

"No relief aid has arrived in our village," Yeniria said. "And our parents, who grow tropical plants to obtain latex, have run out of money again."

"Before the quake we used to help our parents sell vegetables after school. But usually we only helped our mother carry her load, and we didn't walk but went by bus," Yeniria said.

Now, each child must make the long journey to the market carrying six bunches of green vegetables, which they sell for Rp 500 each.

When they were halfway through their journey, a small stall bought six bunches of water spinach from Natalius. However, because Yeniria's supply had not been sold yet, the pair had to carry on walking.

If they sell all their vegetables, the children can buy half a kilogram of rice from the market.

"The rice is Rp 12,000 per kilogram. We hope we can bring half a kilogram home for our family today," Yeniria said.

Another child, Herman Lase, 13, was seen hawking fish at shelters in Gunung Sitoli.

"My father used to sell fish to market vendors. But now only a few people come to the market, so he told me to sell it in town," the student from Saewe village said.

The three children's schools survived the earthquake but classes are yet to resume.

"We probably won't go back to school if our father and mother aren't able to tap latex. We don't have money for school," Yeniria said.

Nias Elementary Education Agency head O'ozatulo Ndraha said that 50 percent of school children had not been able to attend school due to the quake.

"We plan to erect tents where we could hold classes. While school won't fully resume, we can at least encourage the children so they retain their spirit to learn," he said.

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April 2005