I Don’t Mind The Risk of Dying, but I Want the Children to Still Go to School

Friday, February 5th, 2010

Mrs Siti Hajizar: Conflict times were difficult

 Silolo State Primary School is the place where she, who has been serving as a teacher since 1982, teaches children in the suburban Pasie Raja Sub-district, South Aceh District. “Being a teacher was my dream since I was small. I didn’t know why, maybe just because I liked it,” she said, opening the talk that morning. Since her inauguration as a government employee in 1982, the teacher who is known for the discipline among her students has never left Silolo State Primary School. Part of her heart is anchored in the rice-producing village in Pasie Raja Sub-district.

“People considered me as native here,” she said. “When there were feasts, I was always invited. When durian or langsat (Lansium domesticum) is in season, there were, as a matter of course, deliveries from students’ parents for me,” she added. She wants to dedicate her entire remaining ten years to this school before retirement, where she has got such a long history as a teacher. Silolo is like a canvas where she has left colours of her life as a teacher including during the time of conflict in Aceh.

Her memory drifted to one morning in May 2000 when the twenty students of grade VI were getting ready for the first day of the final national school examination (EBTANAS).

“At that time I was the only person at school since I was living in the teacher’s house provided by the government,” she said, relaying her experience 10 years ago. Being the only teacher living at school was a normal situation for the mother of three. Conflicts often made teachers afraid of carrying out their duties, even more so if they had to go to areas security personnel labeled as a basis of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM). “I was often threatened either by GAM members or the Indonesian Army (TNI). “Therefore, I often moved. Once I was in Silolo, another time in Kampung Baru,” she clarified. (Those two places are in the area of Pasie Raja, South Aceh).

One morning which was meant to be the climax of six years studying at school turned to be a dark page in the life stories of Siti Hajizar and her twenty students. “A bomb exploded in Rambung. Shortly after the Indonesian Army entered Silolo. Some were in vehicles, some were on foot,” she disclosed her story. The army chasing GAM members lead to an exchange of gun fire between the two sides. “Without wasting time, I gathered the students straight away in the government-provided teacher’s house. Their parents were too afraid to pick them up from school. Normally during gun fire people were scattered,” she added. “I asked all children to sit down. They cried. I tried to calm them down. I tried everything to comfort them,” she said. With her husband, who is always by in her side, they prepared breakfast for the children who were used to going to school with empty stomachs. “Not long after, some houses started to be on fire. I brought the children to the mountains in front of the school because we were afraid that they would also burn the school,” described the woman who is from Simpang Lhee (a village in North Kluet, South Aceh).

“I brought a set of containers for food with rice and side dishes because we didn’t know how long we had to hide in the mountains,” she explained. There was nothing they could do. “We just hid and laid on our stomachs behind the stones. We were worried that the army would come up to the mountain,” she added while gazing into the air. According to Siti, whose first-born son joined the army, the children were very frightened because some of their parents were members of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM). “The children were concerned about their parents and families,” she said. “At that time we had not got any training (living values) from JRS. Therefore we didn’t know how to comfort the children,” she explained with a smile. Being displaced in the mountains did not help to make the children feel at ease. From the distance they could observe images of the violence taking place before their eyes. Houses burning and blasts of hot tins from gun barrels. Swear words, curses and screams of pain and fear.

“Those were things witnessed by the children during the conflict,” explained the teacher who has dedicated herself to the world of education for 28 years. She believed that the conflict affected the lives of her students at that time. “They always drew guns. Our school walls were full with graffiti and obscure drawings,” she added. Children used to model on what they saw outside. “At school they would often imitate what they saw from men (GAM or TNI) such as hitting, kicking and other things,” said Siti who graduated from teacher training school (SPG). She believed that during conflicts fights regularly occurred in school. Even, the dislikes for certain teachers were expressed openly through threatening words written on the walls. Becoming a teacher in conflict period for her was a profession full of pen drawings with colour – of challenges, love and grief.

“We get pressure both from the top and the bottom level,” she said. GAM did not allow teachers to wear the government employee’s uniform, or give Moral Education based on the Five Principles (Pancasila), do the flag raising ceremony, sing anthems and even use Indonesian language at school. “I just followed their rules,” she continued. “For me, the important thing was to be able to go to school and teach the students,” she said. “The school had to always remain open,” she added. She always responded to her family’s anxiety towards her desire to teach with a smile. “I love those children, I don’t mind the risk of dying as long as they can still go to school and can get better education than their parents,” she closed her story from the conflict.

For her, peace is a blessing. Her hope is clear – for conflict to never happen again. This does not mean that only educating children in peaceful times would necessarily make her life easier in the future. There are still lots of things to do in developing a good education for the children after the conflict. At least, when peace has come, there are chances for Serambi Mekah (Veranda of Mecca) to pursue the things which were left unfinished. “For example, the training carried out by JRS yesterday with us in Tapaktuan,” she said. Living Values training empowers one to create a cheerful situation and conflict-free environment at school. “Now we can talk with the children, understand what they want and make the children happy at school,” closed the most senior teacher of Silolo State Elementary School.

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