Leaving a lasting imprint on lives in Aceh

Nazirah, 18, is among the hundreds of children who have grown up in Fajar Hidayah orphanage cum boarding school in Banda Ache. She is waiting to take up a diploma course in horticulture at the local polytechnic.

Two years after watching her father get shot dead by separatists during an outbreak of civil unrest in Banda Aceh, eight-year-old Nazirah lost her mother to the Dec 26 tsunami in 2004.

With nowhere else to go, Nazirah and her three siblings could seek refuge only in the Fajar Hidayah orphanage cum boarding school in Banda Aceh, the capital city of Aceh province, and figure out what to do next.

Her siblings left after a few years to live with relatives and friends but Nazirah stayed on.

Today, Nazirah is 18 and waiting to take up a diploma course in horticulture at the local polytechnic. She is among hundreds of children who have grown up in the orphanage cum school funded and built by Singapore, after losing their parents in the tsunami.

While Nazirah has been to Singapore only once in 2008 to meet her Singaporean foster parents who paid for her education, she said she will never forget the 10 days she spent in the city.

"I wouldn't be where I am today without the support from the teachers and my foster parents," she said in Bahasa Indonesia.

These are the "permanent imprints" Singaporeans have made on the lives of many Acehnese affected by the 9.2 magnitude quake and the giant waves that followed back in 2004, said Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin yesterday during a visit to Fajar Hidayah. "The legacy of their work can be seen... we should be proud that even as a small country, we are able to make that small difference to the lives of others around us," he added.

Singapore was one of the first countries to help after the 2004 tsunami, sending 1,700 personnel from the Singapore Armed Forces to Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand, in its biggest ever humanitarian and disaster relief operation.

The Republic also raised more than $56 million over the last decade for projects such as the Fajar Hidayah boarding school, built by the Singapore International Foundation and its Indonesian partner Yayasan Fajar Hidayah, for those aged between 1½ and 18 years.

Yesterday marked the first visit to the school by a Singapore Cabinet minister since former foreign minister George Yeo opened it in 2007. During his visit, Mr Tan presented the school with 100 English books donated by Singapore's National Library Board.

Mr Tan, who led the post-tsunami mission to stabilise Meulaboh in 2004 as an army colonel, said Singapore's efforts were recognised by the Acehnese he met in the past week. "We brought a lot of heart in the things we did (here) and I think the extent of the warmth and the welcome we received is really testimony to that."

Mr Tan said Singapore will look at how else to help rebuild Aceh. This could include study trips to Singapore and training sessions for the Acehnese in areas they are keen on developing.

Mr Tan, who ends his four-day visit to Aceh and Jakarta today, said the post-tsunami efforts show that even as small nation, Singapore "has a place in the world".

"We do also have a sense of neighbourliness... by being big- hearted and looking outwards (to) make a big difference not just for others but also creating an environment that is conducive for Singapore because we have friends around us."


This article was first published on November 27, 2014. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.