In 2004, the Indonesian island of Simeulue was at the epicenter of the devastating Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, but most if its residents survived.
The island’s inhabitants were not spared because of advanced technology or a warning system—they were saved by traditional culture.
“When the tsunami happened, a great number of people on the island of Simeulue survived because their ancestors often told stories about earthquake preparedness in song form,” says EDC’s Rendy Djauhari.
Simeulue has a history of deadly earthquakes and tsunamis, and stories about these have been handed down through the generations. When the tide began to recede following the quake, people knew to move away from the shore and seek higher ground.
But to the east of Simeulue, the inhabitants of Indonesia’s Aceh Province were devastated by the tsunami—and the resulting loss of an estimated 230,000 lives.
To help Aceh prepare for future disasters, EDC has developed an instructional DVD to teach what to do before, during, and after an earthquake. The DVD uses a traditional Indonesian dance form called Saman to convey its message of earthquake preparedness.
“The DVDwas designed to become part of the arts learning materials,” says Khatib Latief, also of EDC. “Students are not only provided with knowledge of how to prepare in the event of an earthquake, but they can also take part in preserving the indigenous culture of Aceh.”
Across Aceh, teachers at 143 schools (grades 1–6) will receive training in how to use the DVD. Thirty-eight schools began the program in April 2009, and a second group of 105 schools will start in October.
Called Siaga Gempa (Prepared for an Earthquake), the DVD features two animated characters, Inong (little girl in Acehnese) and Agam (little boy), who teach students the song lyrics and dance steps. “It is similar to karaoke or a Disney sing-along movie,” says Djauhari.
In Saman dancing, a group of performers kneel in a row and move to the music while singing, clapping, slapping their chests, and banging the floor. The dance starts slowly and gradually increases in tempo before coming to a sudden stop.
The dance was choreographed by Acehnese students who participated in EDC’s 2007 regional forum in Bangkok, “Disasters and the Aftermath: Building Life Skills for Health and Education.” The five-day forum brought together youth that had lived through disasters—including the Indian Ocean earthquake and a 2006 earthquake in Central Java—to explore ways to help their communities prepare for future disasters.
Young people attending the forum shared stories about their experiences and learned ways to collect and distribute information on disaster preparedness, techniques to help others cope with loss, and strategies to encourage collaboration with adults and other organizations.
One method the forum devised for distributing information on disaster preparedness was the formation of a youth performing arts group. This group eventually worked with EDC and faculty members of Indonesia’s Syiah Kuala University to develop the Siaga Gempa song lyrics and dance steps, and their performance is featured in the instructional DVD.
The youth forum and DVD are components of EDC’s Decentralized Basic Education (DBE) Program Objective 2 project. DBE 2 is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and seeks to improve the quality of teaching and learning in Indonesia’s public- and private-sector primary schools.
Originally published on July 13, 2009