by Martin Hayes, ChildFund Child Protection Specialist
Reporting from Yogyakarta, Indonesia
Relative calm has been restored to the towns and villages surrounding Mount Merapi. Evacuees are leaving internally displaced persons (IDP) camps and returning home. In many cases, parents are leaving their children with families and friends in the camps so that they can begin cleaning their homes and clearing the debris.
I traveled to two of the villages about 4 kilometers (2 miles) south of the volcano. The roads were covered with an inch of gray powdery ash. In some spots, rain water has combined with the ash to solidify like concrete. Most village residents are farmers. They depend on the rice and vegetables that they grow. The hardened ash has caused many of the crops to die. For now these farmers are living on handouts delivered to the village by volunteers.
I spoke with a few villagers who have returned home. One young mother explained to me, “We don’t have seeds for next season…we’re worried about what we’ll do.” In this part of Indonesia, farmers plant regularly and are able to harvest every few months. They sell part of their harvest and consume the rest. Their subsistence is a delicate balance contingent on the cyclical harvests.
Despite the crop problem, residents are happy to be home. I spoke with a few young children about their experiences over the past few weeks. One 10-year-old girl named Wanyu explained the events immediately after the volcanic eruption. “I felt so scared… I cried. All the lights went out. We looked at the mountain and we saw red lights coming from the top.”
Wanyu fled with her parents to a shelter in the nearest town about 5 kilometers (3 miles) away. “I didn’t like the shelter because it was too hot.” But she explained that she did like meeting new children living at the shelter and learning new traditional games with them. Nonetheless, she’s glad to be back home and eager to return to her fourth-grade classroom. However, the school has not reopened. The students are helping some of the teachers who have returned to clean the school.
Wanyu’s mother is also happy to be home. However, she is noticeably anxious. “I’m worried about Merapi erupting again. I’m also worried about our future as all our vegetables have died.”