Banda Aceh, is famous for being the “Port to Meccah”, named for when Muslim pilgrims traditionally stopped here on their journey to the holy city. The religion of Islam originated here, spreading from these shores inland into the rest of Asia. Today, Banda Aceh is the capital of Aceh Province, in north-western Sumatra.
Civil war raged in this region for thirty years. Its devastating effects caused Banda Aceh – a formerly prosperous area – to decline into a network of slums. However, it wasn’t until 2004 that this area hit international headlines. The Indian Ocean Earthquake and the consequent tsunami on December 26th caused the deaths of more than 130,000 Indonesians living in coastal regions, and the small coastline between Banda Aceh and Meulaboh suffered most. Many, many people were injured, homes destroyed and children orphaned.
Families and children affected by the tsunami
International and local aid helped large numbers of Indonesians get medical care and housing. SOS Children provided immediate relief for survivors of the tsunami. We reunited many children with their families or other relatives, and built over 500 homes and community centres in the local area.
Unintended consequences of regional peace
The level of support from the rest of the world eased political tensions and leaders within Banda Aceh signed a peace agreement. This effectively ended the civil war. One unintended side-effect of this new-found stability and abundance of aid led to Banda Aceh becoming known as an easy place to make a living. The resulting flood of Indonesians to the area has led to overpopulation, while poverty is still rife.
Countless children have been left to roam the streets, turning to petty jobs to try to scrape a living. Hardened criminals find these uneducated, poverty-stricken children to be easy prey and many are led into lives of organised crime.
What is SOS Children doing to help?
In Banda Aceh, we provide ongoing care for children in the region. Since the tsunami, we have opened three Children’s Villages in Banda Aceh, Medan and Meulaboh.
Our social centre coordinates our community work in Banda Aceh. The first programmes were launched in 2005 and are designed to support families living in hardship.
Local parents are offered services including counselling, community support and psychological support. Through this support, we aim to reduce the risk of abandonment and help families stay together. Workshops and self-help groups are designed to improve parenting skills and awareness of children’s rights. We also help families meet basic needs like food or income generation, while the SOS nursery runs day care for children while parents are at work.
When there’s no one else
For children left with no one to care for them as a result of abandonment, or the death of family members, SOS families in Banda Aceh offer a loving home. Children attend SOS nurseries where they integrate with others from the local community, and are educated alongside them, learning valuable social skills.
Hope for the Future
Our work does not end when young people leave school. Our youth programme enables them to pursue vocational training or higher education whilst receiving the support of qualified staff. Their social skills are developed even further as they are encouraged to form a sense of team spirit with others, maintain contact with friends and relatives, and build relations with prospective employers and local authorities. They cultivate independent decision-making skills, learn how to take on more responsibility and create positive perspectives for the future.
Life has been hard here since the tsunami. We have rebuilt homes and lives, and continue to support Banda Aceh’s most vulnerable families.