Journal from the Ground
by Lisa Loomis and Sorayya Khan
Arrive in Medan, Indonesia. Titim very
kindly and graciously met us at the airport. She is an ARF volunteer in
Medan, studied nutrition in school, and works for a shipping company.
Guided us to domestic terminal, kept us company for a while before we
checked in and boarded last flight (of five!) to Banda Aceh.
Arrived in Sultan Iskandar Muda Airport of Banda Aceh. The airport is a
small building, and baggage arrived on a single conveyor belt. We were
met by Cut Famelia, a very kind and solicitous young woman who works at
Aceh Institute and is a volunteer at Phi Beta Learning Center. The ride
from the airport to Phi Beta was lovely. The green is vivid and lush,
the road was flat, but hills surrounded us in the distance. The scenery
on the ride reminded me of movies Iíve seen about Vietnam, but with a
pinch of Rawalpindi, Pakistan, thrown in there. There were lots of
narrow roads, bustling stalls and shops on either side, and lots of
people walking about.
We stopped for six bottles of water on the way to the hotel. (It is a
bit hot and humid!) We rested at the hotel for two hours. Famelia picked
us up at the hotel and we were only underway for about three or four
minutes when we were pulled over by police. Our driver, Jol, showed the
police his documents. One of the documents was a copy rather than an
original and he had to follow police to their various vehicles behind us
to make his case while he tried to call his boss on his cell phone.
Plenty of other people were also being pulled over. A fine was paid. One
of the most noticeable impressions was all the women riding on
motorbikes and motor scooters. Most of the women had their heads
covered, but there were plenty in (tight!) jeans. Young couples rode
with babies and their children on motorbikes. We rushed off to our
Photo: Lisa Loomis and Famelia outside Phi Beta Learning Center
Arrived at Phi Beta Learning Center. Almost immediately as you walk in
is the centerís library. The library is several floor to ceiling shelves
of books placed in a u-shape. It was clear the center was busy and well
utilized with students walking in and out. We met several of the staff,
including Muhyiddin who is the Education Director of Phi Beta. We met
Dr. Nora Mohammed Adzahan, a December 2006 graduate in Food Technology
from Cornell University, Ithaca, currently residing in KL, Malaysia
where she teaches Food Technology at UPM (University Putra Malaysia).
She is also visiting Banda Aceh for the first time. Ega is a teacher at
Phi Beta and a volunteer of the mobile library. She introduced Nora, who
then stood in the library next to Muhyiddin before the donation ceremony
began. Nora made a donation of books to the Phi Beta Learning Center
while three young children sat close to them and didnít even look up
from their books during the formalities! Nora was not able to bring all
the books she had collected in Malaysia because of weight restrictions
on the airplane. She hopes to do this next time.
Photo: Cut Famelia, Mardiana (Director of Phi Beta), and Trisna
Novie Lasmita (Phi Beta teacher, and Finance Officer of Phi
Photo: Children reading during book donation ceremony
Photo: Dr. Nora Mohammed Adzahan presenting Muhyiddin with the
We toured Phi Beta Learning Center. Phi
Beta is a facility that offers extra classes for students in a variety
of the core subjects. It services a wide range of ages, the objective
being to assist students in learning and eventually passing university
entrance exams. We saw some of the water damage, the lines on the walls
which marked how high the water had come during the tsunami. Many books
were destroyed by the water, and all the computer equipment in the lab
was destroyed as well. Since then, much has been replaced. Phi Beta has
two branches in Banda Aceh, the other one was more seriously affected by
the tsunami. We were told how the staff, paid volunteers, and government
workers cleaned up the building in the aftermath. Saw the computer lab
with the new equipment and people working on it. We walked into the
courtyard around which are classrooms. In the middle of the courtyard
there is a raised platform for prayers which is also used for school
purposes. We saw some damage in the courtyard, particularly a tree that
had been felled by the Tsunami. It was white and dry, lying against the
wall on one side.
One of the people we met was Munawar, a former student of Saiful Mahdiís
who is now studying for his Masterís degree in Malaysia, although he is
on summer vacation for two months in Banda Aceh. He described the
importance of education to the Acehnese and the renewed commitment to
this goal after the tsunami. In pre-tsunami times government schools
were often burned, both by the government (who didnít want the Acehnese
to have facilities) and GAM who considered the schools government
symbols. Munawar spoke of the post-Tsunami opening of Aceh as the
opening of minds and how critical this is to Acehnese society. Everyone
we met was so friendly and solicitous, and proud to show us their work.
While conversations were going on, students were studying hard in their
classrooms. There were lots of girls among them.
Before leaving, Muhyiddin procured the ARF cell phone for us. We slowly
made our way back to Jol and the car. Famelia dropped us back at the
hotel where we collapsed.