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Students from Aceh are returning to help their homeland / Tenggara also helps devastated Sumatra

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Murtala (27), by origin from Banda Aceh, the administrative centre of the Indonesian province of Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam, is a student at the School of Indonesian Arts (STSI) in Padang Panjang (province of West Sumatra). Before the catastrophe he worked on his diploma thesis and was getting ready for final examinations. After the disastrous earthquake and subsequent tsunami waves that almost completely destroyed his native city, he rallied the fellow students of the Padang Panjang school and created a team of volunteers who, on December 31, left for Banda Aceh to help in the rescue work.

The return home was extremely difficult. Work of the volunteers had to start with the removal of dead bodies in various degree of decay. The students plan that when this grisly work is over, they will take part in the reconstruction and sanitary activities. At the moment, a rough estimate is that the volunteers will have to continue working for at least six additional months. The members of Murtala´s family, including mother, father, and eight brothers and sisters, are reported to have survived the disaster (whereby some of them were living in Meulaboh, a coastal town in western Aceh which suffered one of the strongest tsunami attacks) but virtually nothing was left of their material property.

At present, they live in temporary refugee camps in which, according to the news available, the children are getting sick of low food supply and lack of milk. Up to now (January 5), Murtala has not had any chance to meet with the family. Apart from his personal troubles, nevertheless, he has been doing his best to maintain the connection with us the friends here in Prague and keep us informed about the course of their present work. Only telephone communication has been possible so far because the internet was in poor shape in Aceh even before the disaster and at present, the network is out of operation as a whole.

I have known Murtala personally from as early as the year 2000 during which I studied, as a student of Indonesian Studies at Charles University, Prague, at the above mentioned School of Arts (STSI) in Padang Panjang. Since that time we have been very good friends and we met for several more times during my further studies in the region of West Sumatra. The community of STSI students who come from Aceh province counts about 30 people. I know several of them very well and they belong to my closest friends. Just to name a few of them, I would mention, e.g., Faudzano (29), Jamaludin Syarief (34), Rassyidin (26), and Sullaiman Juned (38), beside several others; I and my Czech colleagues enjoyed the opportunity to visit even their families during our studies in Padang Panjang. Most of these friends presently work as volunteers to help remove the calamitous consequences of the recent natural disaster and start restoration of the devastated homes.

I myself, as well as the members of the free association of Tenggara, would like to help to those in need. In other words, we would like to contribute both to the securing of immediate basic needs of our close friends and their families who survive under difficult conditions, and to the initiation of reconstruction and further positive development of the area in near future. That is why we are going to send our financial help to the devastated Aceh.

Michaela Kupková, M.A., is graduate student of ethnology at Philosophical Faculty, Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic.