The tiny room bore no resemblance to a classroom, except for the glow from a screen projector at the front, which lit up the faces of 40 children sitting on a green carpet.
Still, the students studied math, science, social studies, English, and their native language in the house owned by a relative of their teacher, Sri Nuryani. A house the Indonesian government had labeled a refugee camp.
Anyone within a 12-mile radius of Mount Merapi was evacuated following the volcano’s October 2010 eruption. The students in this class—which is part of EDC’s Decentralized Basic Education Program Objective 2 (DBE2) in Cepogo, Indonesia—were among the 320,000 residents who found shelter and safety in the nearby city of Boyolali, on the Indonesian island of Java.
Over the next few weeks, lava continued to spew from the volcano, pouring down its heavily populated slopes. On November 5, students from 34 DBE 2 schools were evacuated, and by December, the death toll from Mount Merapi’s eruption had reached 353. Everyone in the project was safe, and no damage to the buildings was reported.
“The eruption paralyzed all community activities near Mount Merapi, including all activities in the schools,” said EDC’s Puji Wulandari T. Dewi.
The schools in Cepogo represent only a small portion of the hundreds of schools all over Indonesia that are part of EDC’s DBE 2 program, which was created to help the Indonesian school system transition after it was decentralized in 2001. Starting in 2005, EDC set about helping to improve the quality of teaching and learning in Indonesia, with support from the U.S. Agency for International Development. DBE 2 works with public and private sector partners to improve professional development for teachers such as Nuryani.
In the weeks following the eruption, students mourned the loss of loved ones and feared their classrooms and homes might have been destroyed. Nuryani did her best to support her students.
“We gathered our students here to have some activities during this emergency situation,” said Nuryani. She said she and other teachers kept the children busy and helped calm their fears.
Nuryani’s regular classroom—including books, pencils, and computers—and the entire schoolyard were coated in half a centimeter of volcanic ash. So in the camp, she made do with what she had: a notebook and pencil for each student.
“We asked the students to tell a story about Mount Merapi, and they learned about the mountains in Indonesia,” she said.
In the afternoons, the students were taken to rest at a nearby church, and on certain mornings, to an activity camp to study and play before returning to the emergency classroom. DBE 2 teachers from other regions volunteered in the refugee camps, reading with the students and preparing meals.
“How can we teach while we are busy thinking about how to save people from the hot volcanic ash?” asked another DBE 2 teacher, Sarono. Still, they found a way.
On November 15, three weeks after entering refugee camps, the people of Boyolali went home. Once all signs of the ash plume had been cleared, the students from Cepogo returned to their classroom they remembered.
Originally published on April 29, 2011