SurfAid Helps Build Mentawai Islands School

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Photos Duncan Macfarlane / Surfing World

The 2010 Mentawai tsunami wreaked a wide path of destruction in the island chain and wiped out the village of Masokut, on Sipora Island.

With the help of SurfAid, the Masokut community has since rebuilt their village on higher ground, safe from another tsunami.  However the children, aged seven to 10, are being taught in a one-room timber shack that has plastic sheeting for walls.

After the tsunami, SurfAid’s Psychosocial Support Program team ran activities that helped the children return to a normal routine and reduce the effects of the trauma, and the school building was constructed as a temporary structure.

“To say the school is ‘basic’ is an understatement,” said SurfAid Schools Program manager Milton Brown. “The ‘desks’ are simple square pieces of timber for the children to write on but they have to sit on the floor, which is rough-hewn timber with cracks. In this cramped space, three dedicated teachers are doing their best to educate the future of Masokut.”

Brown, who hails from Sydney’s northern beaches, said $25,000 was needed to build a six-room school with toilets. “Avalon Lions Club generously donated $6,000 towards the project, retired Pittwater High teacher Evan Jeffrey organised a fundraiser at Avalon RSL that raised another $2,000, and Craig Finniss and Bobby Sox also raised $2,000, so we thank everyone who has contributed so far,” he said. 

Former Pittwater Mayor Alex McTaggart, who was on a surf charter boat with fellow Avalon surfers when the tsunami struck during the night in October 2010, helped raise the Lions Club funds.

“Nine Avalon surfers were in the area and we went ashore on the island of South Pagai. There had been a small village opposite the surf break but nothing could prepare us for the utter destruction and loss of life,” McTaggart said.  

“We did what we could to assist providing water, food and medicine and making sure the authorities in Padang, on the mainland, were aware of the situation.  

“As we received a lot of media coverage we decided to raise some funds through the Avalon Lions Club to assist in the recovery of these villages and working with SurfAid was the best avenue to help.” 

Milton Brown, a former teacher at Barrenjoey High, which is nestled at the northern end of Avalon Beach, said what was heart-warming about the project was that a village elder, Bapak Marsius, had decided to donate the land for the new school.

“Marsius had limited access to education and he survives by farming cocoa and other cash crops to support his family. But his eldest daughter is finishing her university degree in Jakarta and she said she would return to the village and teach in the school,” Brown said.

Marsius met with SurfAid staff recently to show them the land he is donating, which is in a safe zone high above any possible tsunami. The government will build a road close to the land and the school will be in the middle of the village, making it easy for the children to get there from both north and south of the village.  

Marsius’s smile never faded while he spoke of how excited he was about the new development in his village. “We are grateful for this school,” he said. “I talked to my family and we all agree, our children’s education is the best way for us to get out of poverty.”

Milton Brown said SurfAid and the community will work together to build the new school and the regional Mentawai Government will also assist with funding. 

“We have received the permission of the local government to build the new school and it will involve the community doing the work under our technical construction guidance,” Brown said.

“The level we work on with our programs is to liaise closely with the local government re the needs of the communities, and have the permission and support of local government so as to promote sustainability and independence.

“When resources are limited, little things can help so much. The people of Masokut and the Mentawai are hard working, willing and full of hope.  Let’s make this dream happen for them.”

If you wish to donate to the project, please contact Milton Brown.  
E: W: +61 2 9965 7325