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Traumatised students return to schools one week after Indonesian quake
GUNUNG SITOLI, Indonesia (AFP) Apr 04, 2005
Children on Indonesia's Nias island returned to their schools Monday for the first time since last week's massive earthquake, many still traumatised by the disaster that killed some of their classmates and left classrooms in ruins.

Attendance numbers were dramatically down but teachers were not certain this reflected casualties from the March 28 quake estimated to have killed up to 1,300 people.

At the SMP Negeri 3 High School in Nias' largest town, Gunung Sitoli, only 200 children were present from 745 before the powerful earthquake that was felt across northwestern Indonesia. About two-thirds of the teachers showed up.

"Until now we have not heard reports of casualties whether from the students or from the teachers," said principal Fatimano Mendrofa, 49.

"Some of the kids are traumatised, some of them probably went back to their villages but we are happy to see them here," he said.

Twelve of the school's 20 classrooms were destroyed in the quake, which damaged all the 99 schools in the small coastal town. If the student numbers returned to normal, classes would have to be held outdoors, said Mendrofa.

With powerful aftershocks continuing to jolt the island since the quake, some students said they would rather not be inside a classroom.

"I prefer to study outside because I am still a little bit scared," said 14-year-old Ningsih Laoli.

The first lesson Monday was about surviving another major tremor, the principal said.

Students were told how to evacuate their classrooms and run into the school field should another earthquake strike. They then swept up the dust and started lessons.

Many were still shocked by the events of the past week.

Maths teacher Ramani Daili, 43, choked back the tears when she addressed her class. "Even though we are in a situation like this, we still have to study," she said.

Her classroom overlooks the ruins of her home and she -- like hundreds of other islanders -- has been sleeping outdoors since the quake.

"Obviously I am still traumatised. The aftershocks are taking place continuously and they scare us," she said.

In an English lesson in a class nearby, a student translated a sentence spoken in Indonesian by the teacher. "We will get help from the government tomorrow," she wrote on the blackboard.

Asked how she felt, she wrote: "We feel sad."

But some students in the class were pleased to be back at school and with their friends.

"We missed classes already and I would like to see the situation of my school," said 14-year-old Slamet Juang Laoli. Asked if he was afraid of another quake, he said, "A little bit but my girlfriend is here so I am happy."

The news was grim for students and teachers returning to the Saint Xavier Catholic school. Four children were found to have been killed in the quake and 90 percent of the school was destroyed.

Some 100 children turned up, from the 413 before the tremor, many of them not in their school uniforms. They were told to go a neighbouring school on Tuesday for the start of lessons.

"They are a little bit traumatised but their spirits are high because they are here," said 26-year-old computer teacher Romulus Telaumbanua.

The UN children's organisation UNICEF said that while teachers and students had filtered back to some schools, most were not ready to resume proper teaching.

Many had homeless people camping in their grounds, or lacked supplies, and it was not certain if standing school buildings were structurally sound, said UNICEF's Lely Djuhari.

With often intense aftershocks continuing, "The schools need to be assessed as to the extent of the structural damage, whether they are safe enough for the children to return," she said.

UNICEF was planning to send an officer to the island to check the buildings, with authorities aiming to have schools functioning properly in about 10 days, Djuhari added.

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