Nobel "Man for Peace" visits orphans, schools in Aceh
LAMNO, Indonesia, Jan 31 (UNHCR) - Yusuf Islam, the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens, joined the UNHCR team in the Indonesian province of Aceh over the weekend to visit children displaced by the tsunami whom he plans to assist through his organisation, Small Kindness.
Yusuf, honoured as the "Man for Peace" during the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates last year, flew from Jakarta on Saturday with his wife and a high-level Indonesian delegation. They continued the journey to Lamno on Aceh's west coast with UNHCR on the Swiss Super Puma helicopters used to transport emergency relief supplies and staff.
UNHCR's teams took him to a nearby school-turned-centre for displaced persons, where a large number of children displaced from surrounding villages had gathered to meet him.
Twenty-six of the 40 villages surrounding Lamno were destroyed by the tsunami. Over 50 percent of the population died. UNHCR is on the ground to provide emergency supplies, plan for longer-term shelter solutions and develop community projects in an attempt to rebuild the lives of the affected population.
Only minutes before Yusuf's arrival in Lamno, a small tremor was felt, one of the many aftershocks that have been occurring daily in Aceh following the massive earthquake of December 26. "All the children stiffened and wanted to run out there and then," said UNHCR's advisor on women and children's issues, Karuna Anbarasan. "But the local imam told them to stay calm, to sit and to pray. He said they survived for a reason and purpose and it calmed them down."
She added, "Despite the immense trauma, these children have an enormous capacity to bounce back. Many have lost so much, but still they wanted to go back to school, to learn, to grow, to become teachers, pilots. They have dreams and the energy to go on."
The children treated Yusuf to a performance of song and intricate Acehnese dance using only their upper bodies. They swayed back and forth, while the singer stood and prayed in Arabic with all of them, having found a common language. "I am very happy to visit the area and this school, as education is at the heart of my work," he said.
Yusuf's non-governmental organisation, Small Kindness, has set up offices in Bosnia, Kosovo, Albania and Iraq, providing support to victims of conflict and natural disaster, in particular orphans. A new base has just been set up in Aceh, with a focus on providing assistance to orphans and teachers who lost their schools during the tsunami.
In December last year, Yusuf had surprised and honoured UNHCR with a rare and impromptu performance of "The Little Ones" during a benefit concert for Darfur at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Interested in UNHCR's work, he decided to visit the agency's operations in tsunami-hit Aceh.
"There are many people in the world who do such good things, here in particular," he told UNHCR. "I want to use this opportunity today to say thank you."
In Banda Aceh, the singer visited orphans who will be supported by Small Kindness in the future. He also paid tribute to tsunami victims at the Islamic University, where 40 percent of the staff disappeared in the tidal waves and where Yusuf plans to support educational programmes.
"The tsunami was terrible, but it also came to unite us," said Indonesia's former Minister of Human Rights, Hasaballah M. Saad, who accompanied Yusuf and his wife on the trip to Aceh. "At least now we are all working together and that is good."
Yusuf is set to perform in Jakarta for the tsunami victims on Monday night. Among the many songs he will sing is "Indian Ocean", specially composed in honour of those affected by the disaster.
By Astrid van Genderen Stort in Lamno, Indonesia