Helping out quake victims one T-shirt at a time

Mark Heyward

The Jakarta Post


Jakarta   /  Wed, September 12, 2018  /  09:22 am

The routine: Students study mathematics at SD 6 Batu Layar in Duduk Atas village in Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara.(Face This/File)

High on the hills behind Senggigi, on Lombok’s west coast, a small primary school clings to the slopes of one of Mount Rinjani’s volcanic foothills.

SD 6 Batu Layar, located in the village of Duduk Atas, began its life 15 years ago on the veranda of the village mosque. Before that, most of the villagers never went to school. Most were destined for life as illiterate, itinerate laborers.

The school has grown since then, now comprising 107 children and 15 teachers.

In the spirit of gotong royong (everyone helping to achieve a shared goal), the whole community built the school.

Inspired by Pak Aini, a community leader, the villagers have supplied workers, land and volunteer teachers. This is a poor community, but rich in spirit; a community with friends.

The government licensed the school and has built some of the classrooms. It now provides operational funds, a principal and two teachers.

The Lombok Rotary Club non-profit organization together with local businesses, such as the nearby The Studio guesthouse, have also contributed. And Face This – a popular Netherlands-based T-shirt brand, popular not only for its unique designs but also its philosophy – has supported the school since 2008.

Face This T-shirts feature trendy designs, based on drawings by children from Duduk Atas. The children’s drawings are sent to the Netherlands where a group of creative illustrators and designers turn them into unique designs. The profit from each T-shirt sold goes back to Duduk Atas to help the school.

Funds from these T-shirts have paid for equipment, books, furniture and teacher training, as well as building classrooms and a playground.

Now, Face This has launched a special edition T-shirt to help with the recovery after the earthquake.

Created by United Kingdom designer Jimmy Turrell, who produced the latest album cover for Beck and has directed several music videos, the tee is available online for men and women.

The volcanic geology that makes the island of Lombok so fertile, can also be violent. Strong earthquakes have struck Lombok since July 29, killing 555, injuring more than 7,700 and displacing 402,000 people. North Lombok was the worst-hit region, with 466 dead and more than 23,000 houses damaged. 

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency recorded as of Aug. 22 that 76,765 houses and 1,229 public facilities such as schools and places of worship across the province were damaged in the quakes. 

Fractured: A crack in a wall is visible in the school’s recently constructed library. The building still stands but deep fractures mean it could collapse in another earthquake. (Face This/File)

Lombok has a population of 3 million. Most are farmers or fishing folk. Many rely on tourism for their livelihoods. According to government data, 894 schools across the island have been badly damaged or destroyed, with 1529 classrooms unusable and needing to be rebuilt. The quakes have affected 106,698 children.

Images on social media of destroyed villages, crumbling mosques and shattered schools begin to give meaning to the statistics. But it is the stories of individuals that really help to make some sense of what happened.

The school at Duduk Atas has been closed for several weeks. Many cracks and fractures are evident, along with broken tiles, ceilings and windows; but the main classroom, the terrace and walls on which they rest are basically sound.

The school’s recently constructed library, which was also used by the kindergarten, has not fared so well. The building still stands but deep fractures in the walls show that it is unsound and unsafe. It might collapse in another big shake.

Around the village, the damage is patchy. Some homes are totally destroyed, others partially, and others appear untouched. Some families are living in tents. School kids play on the terraced area in front of the school.

The spirit of childhood is undiminished as they kick a soccer ball around. It is heartening to watch the rough-and-tumble play as I chat to Zam Zam, an older boy who is taking care of Siti, his little cousin.

Zam Zam is a smart looking lad, well-groomed, with intelligent eyes. He speaks with confidence. “I am now in the second year of junior high school,” he says proudly, “I love to study reading the most”.

A graduate of Duduk Atas, who knows where Zam Zam would be if the community had not gotten behind Pak Aini’s vision of establishing a school on the hill, or if Face This had not come to help.

Funds from Face This and friends in Indonesia and around the world pay for tarpaulin for a temporary kindergarten, as well as emergency food parcels for the teachers, most of whom earn a tiny income and are living rough. A Bali-based NGO provides early-grade reading material for the children.

It is only the beginning. The real task is to help these people rebuild their lives, their community, their school.

Over the coming weeks the village will determine how much the government can provide to rebuild the broken school, how much Face This can raise from T-shirt sales, how much the expatriate community can help, as well as Lombok residents and their friends from around the world. And what the village community can do for themselves. Together, they will make a plan to make the school safe and comfortable again for learning.

Saifurahman, who teaches grade 4 students, arrives. A young man with a bright smile, he explains how his house has collapsed and how he, like many, is living in a tent with his family.

When the shaking eventually stopped, some returned to their homes. Many are sleeping outdoors for fear of more earthquakes, traumatized by the continual shaking. But many others, like Saifurahman, will not be able to return.

The government has pledged support to rebuild badly damaged houses – but how soon will the money arrive? And what if you lived in rented accommodation? And what about when the monsoon rains arrive in September or October?

“We are all fellow humans,” Saifurahman says. “Whether we are rich or poor, whether we are from the Netherlands or Australia or Lombok, whether we are Muslims or Christians – we are all human beings, right? We are all the same.”