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When I have discussions with my colleagues around gender equality, I am reminded of an experience I had during a recent trip to Palu where I met Ibu Selvie. She is an example of when women are in leadership roles, they can bring about change effectively.

Ibu Selvie, a teacher in Jono Oge has found a way to defy the hardships women in her community faced following last year’s tsunami and has found a way to bring her students back to class.

When I arrived in Jono Oge, one of the villages in Central Sulawesi  devastated by last year’s earthquake and tsunami, I was struck by the incredible resilience of the women in the community. Yes, villagers were visibly upset but it was their ability to pick themselves up, and bring hope for the better future to their families and their communities, that I found most compelling.

As I made my way around the area that was most devastated, I met Selvie, an educator, who in the course of our conversation, shared her passion for education and determination to keep students learning despite the devastation, and in many cases tragedy around them.

UNDP has been active in the community helping rebuild their lives through the Cash-for-Work (CfW) programme which aims to clear the debris of the quake-hit areas. Selvie encouraged members of her community and parents of her students to get involved  in this  programme where participants  received daily income by clearing the debris of the quake-stricken homes and schools. During our time together, I got a sense of her dedication to educating students as she talked about creating a feeling of normalcy for them.

 Selvie told me about her efforts in creating a “safe heaven” for her students following the disaster, using the help of the government and international aid agencies, including UNDP and UNICEF.

 “We were provided emergency tents at the time. I put a piece of wood in front of the tent with the name of our school on it,” she said, noting that by doing this, she had hoped parents could identify the school’s temporary, location in the refugee camp on the border between Lolu and Jono Oge villages. She also reached out to her students’ families, asking them to return to school to resume the learning process. 

“I also instructed teachers and staff to go to the camps where residents of Jono Oge were staying , to find our students and let  them know that school  was back in session,”  said the teacher of 25 years. It had just been 17 days since the disaster when she had 25 students sitting in the classroom under the emergency tent.  The Universitas Terbuka Palu alumna focused on providing a space for her students to study  and also receive much needed psychological support.  “While we were waiting for the temporary classroom to be completed, we continued using the emergency tent in   evacuation camp Posko 6 . We mostly played games the with students to help them deal with the traumatic situation,” she said.

Ibu Selvie has big plans for the future. She wants to rebuild her school as soon as possible, and she wants her school to be a better and more resilient place for the students. She already has plans in mind, how to make adjustments in the design of the school buildings.

Due to gender inequalities, women are disproportionately affected by disasters then men and less likely to benefit from relief and recovery.  Their central role in disaster response is often overlooked women like Ibu Selvie are primary leaders in play a great role in recovery and resilience – they know their communities, as they know their neighbours and are and are less likely to such play a greater role in recovery and resilient.

As Jono Oge recovers from this tragedy, my experience relives resilience with a strong gender inclusive process such as UNDP’s PETRA project have yield better results that have benefits the entire community.


By Sophie Kemkhadze, Deputy Resident Representative UNDP Indonesia 

Edited by Ranjit Jose and Kiana Bonnick

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