Diversified Drill, One Wish
"Allahu Akbar Allahu Akbar"
One student kept repeating this phrase into the microphone during the tsunami evacuation drill, we recently held in Aceh, Indonesia. I was wondering why this student continued to do so when it seemed that the teachers were in a hurry to give instructions to students, on what to do next.
As the students followed the instructions to evacuate, I walked behind them into another classroom. Some students were hugging each other, some were holding each other’s hands, and they were all repeating the same phrase.
The scene confused me. Where I come from, Japan, I was taught to keep quiet during an evacuation drill, otherwise other students may not be able to hear instructions from the teachers. So, I was concerned the chanting would distract the communication between students and teachers.
I was standing in a classroom in Dayah Terpadu Inshafuddin Banda Aceh, an Islamic boarding school witnessing their drill in response to a tsunami warning. To my surprise, I learnt that the students were, in fact, praying. The student on the microphone was performing Azan, the Islamic call for prayer.
In the classroom, the students were reciting Takbir, the chanting of the phrase, which is commonly used during times of distress. The school staff explained that praying has the psychological effect of keeping the students calm, which is important when facing a devastating tsunami. The praying is integrated into the school’s disaster evacuation plan.
When I understood the cultural context, I felt ashamed of my lack of knowledge regarding Islam. But at the same time, I was so excited to learn something new! I realized then that in each country the drill practice would be different.
The drills are part of a project by the UN Development Programme, to strengthen school preparedness for tsunamis in 18 Asia Pacific countries. As each country is unique, each tsunami drill incorporates local traditions and customs.
I was curious to learn more about the Islamic boarding school, and its practices. In Indonesia, the Islamic boarding schools are required to follow two types of education curriculum: Islamic curriculum taught by the “Ustazd (Ustadzah)," and the government curriculum, such as mathematics, natural and social sciences; taught by the "Pak guru (Buk guru)." I was told that collaboration between the two types of teaching groups is a challenge, since they have completely separate roles. Moreover, while there are both males and females in one class, they formed separate lines while evacuating and separate groups at the assembly point.
To resolve the various coordination issues, the student groups played an active role in leading the drills. Male and female class coordinators were appointed to lead the groups to safely evacuate, conduct the headcount and report to male and female teachers. Interestingly, while the Ustazd and Pak guru teachers normally did not interact, the drill process brought the whole school together under the leadership of the student coordinators.
Some teachers said that the drills brought back horrific memories of the 2004 tsunami. But they all affirmed that “We can support the students now because we experienced it all!”
I returned to my job in Bangkok with a greater sense of motivation for the part I play in supporting schools to strengthen their preparedness. I am working on developing a database of tsunami risk areas and schools in 18 Asia Pacific Countries.
The database is intended to help risk informed planning and preparedness for all at risk schools. A mobile application developed under this project to assess school preparedness will be integrated into this database. The database is only a tool, and will be effective only when the users engage with it. After witnessing the excitement of the students, I believe they will.
My final take away? Tsunami drills are unique and varied, and depend upon the region and culture. However, everyone shares only one wish, which is to support the school children, teachers, and community, to survive.
I would like express special thanks to Dr. Nuraini Rahma Hanifa, Researcher in Institute Technology of Bandung and Mr. Tgk Khairizal Wahid, teacher in Dayah Terpadu Inshafuddin Banda Aceh.
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