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An Icon from Calang

ONE morning last February, as usual, Dina Astita arrived in one of the emergency schools located at Calang City, Aceh Jaya, Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam. Before long, two Time magazine reporters arrived to conduct an interview with her. The conversation carried on for more than half an hour, touching on subjects from her students to her family.

Dina has long since forgotten the interview that February 23, 2005. She was reminded of it only when a short message service arrived from a colleague in Jakarta, two weeks ago. The content of the message was surprising. The 34-year-old was featured in the April 18, 2005 edition of Time. She was considered one of the 100 most influential figures in the world today.

In the magazine's report, Dina is listed in the same pages as the Dalai Lama (Tibetan spiritual leader), Bill Gates (Microsoft boss), Viktor Yuschenko (Ukrainian leader), and Michael Schumacher (Formula 1 race car driver). They are viewed as icons and heroes within their respective fields.

None of this had ever crossed Dina's imagination. As an honorarium teacher, she is considered one of the most formidable figures in assisting the revival of educational activities in post-tsunami Aceh. Yet, this woman--born in Lamno, Aceh Jaya, on June 6, 1971--claimed to have no intention of gaining any kind of popularity whatsoever. Her biggest inspiration? Her own children. "By helping other children to school, my own children may be surviving some place else," Dina said.

As a result of the tsunami that swept Aceh on December 26, 2004, Dina lost all of her children: Almanda Ahmady, 7, Aldius Ahmady, 6, Altausal Ahmady, 4, and one foster daughter, Maisarah, 23. She survived along with her husband, Usman Ahmady, by departing to Banda Aceh the morning before the earthquake to attend her brother's wedding at Baiturrahman Mosque. The wedding was inevitably canceled when the earthquake and tsunami arrived as uninvited guests.

She could not go back home until 20 days later, taking a boat due to the heavy damage of the roads. Her house at the Calang City Housing and Development Services Complex was leveled to the ground. "Did anybody see my children?" was a question she would ask anyone she met. She has not seen her children since.

Dina and her husband eventually filled their days by offering their assistance to one of the German-run field hospitals, as interpreters. Dina also assisted with the immunization of school children. It was then that she noticed the children's education was inexorably neglected, due to the lack of space, teaching staff, and equipment.

The children had indeed been organized by marines to attend schooling in three different tents: for elementary, junior high, and senior high school respectively. Still, there was no education other than singing and marching. Her instinct as an educator was aroused. Dina resigned from her interpreting duties and opted to return to teaching.

In one of the meetings between the task force, military, and NGOs, Dina requested for more tents to be provided in lieu of classrooms. As more tents rose the next day, she took to teaching English language and biology for 200 junior high-school students. Alternately, she would take the position teaching a senior high-school class with some 300 students in attendance.

Her other activities are to find more help to return students back to school, and teachers back to teach. Her efforts led to her recognition. Several aids for education activities soon found themselves in Dina's trustworthy hands. "We know that Bu Dina has been very active in the field and helped with education matters in Calang," said Musriyadi Aswad, an employee of Nurani Mandiri, an NGO.

Dina had always wanted to be a teacher. She graduated from the Ar-Raniry Islamic State Institute, Banda Aceh, in 1996. After marrying Usman, then an employee of the Banda Aceh Public Services Department, she started teaching. Dina was made an honorarium teacher at the Banda Aceh Technical High School. Four years later she moved to Meulaboh, following her husband who was transferred to work there. In this West Aceh district capital, Dina continued teaching, as an honorarium teacher at the Meulaboh Technical High School.

In 2002, she moved to Calang as her husband was appointed as the Aceh Jaya Housing and Development Services Department head. In this city, Dina took the position of honorarium teacher at the Krueng Sabee I Junior High School. "I have attempted the state employee examinations many times, still I have not passed," she claimed.

The featuring of Dina Astita in a magazine such as Time may be worth more than the simple state employee status she wishes for. Yet, she is still humble: "This is more of a responsibility for me."

Abdul Manan, Adi Warsidi (Calang)

TEMPO, MAY 02, 2005-034/P. 26 Heading National

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