Risking life for school
On Wednesday morning I received an image on my twitter feed (@beawiharta). It was a photo from a local newspaper that showed a student crossing a river on a collapsed bridge. The picture caught me. I needed to find out where it was so I could go there to capture it.
Shortly afterwards I arrived at the office. I had forgotten about the collapsed bridge because we were very busy. I had two assignments for the day, a breast milk courier story and a story about Indonesia’s rising investment rating. This was a big financial story because Moody’s ratings agency restored Indonesia debt to investment grade.
I went to Jakarta’s business district to find photos of middle-class workers returning to their homes. When I had finished, I realized that I had something different to shoot for the next day. I searched Google maps to find the location of the collapsed bridge but I couldn’t find the exact location. There was a blank map with only the name of the village, Sanghiang Tanjung. Surprisingly, it said the village was just 130 kms (80 miles) away from our Jakarta office – a travel time of about two hours. My estimation was it would take 4 hours.
3am Thursday morning, my friend and driver Soewarno and I headed to the village. We reached by 6am. But the difficulty was this village was just a blank area on the map. Also, we had to find the right direction that the students would take, so that I could take a pictures from the front, not from the back. We found many roads in the village but no one knew where the bridge was. With the help of my friends, we were able to get the name of the head of the village, Epi Sopian, who accompanied us to the location. Edi said the bridge collapsed during Saturday’s big flood when wood and bamboo hit the suspension bridge’s pillar.
I arrived at the location as the students were crossing. They were already in the middle of the bridge. Oh no, these could not be the children who wanted to go to school, I thought! It was more like an acrobatic show the collapsed bridge as an apparatus and without any safety device at all. They walked slowly, sometimes screaming as their shoes slipped. Suddenly the rain came. A last group of students, Sofiah and her friend, were on the bridge. Happily, all the students crossed safely. I took pictures for no more than five minutes.
As Sofiah sheltered from the rain, I asked her: “Sofiah, is there no other way so you must pass through this collapsed bridge?” “There is, but we would have to walk around and that is 30 minutes more than this route. If we pass the collapsed bridge we need only 10 minutes to walk this way,” she said. “You’re not afraid?” I asked. “I was afraid.” she replied very slowly. “But I have to go to school.”
When the rain stopped, I followed Sofiah as she walked to school. It wasn’t far, only a 10 minute walk. While walking followed behind her, I thought, if Sofiah was my daughter (I have a daughter the same age as Sofiah) I would keep her at home until the government builds a new bridge. Perhaps her grades would not go up, but it’s better than crashing and being dragged into the river. It was difficult to think that a day after taking pictures of middle class workers in the Indonesian capital, just three hours away from luxurious buildings, I found a group of students risking their lives to go to school.
Update November 29: Indonesia’s largest steel producer, PT Krakatau Steel (KRAS) and some NGOs build the new bridge to replace one that was damaged after flooding in January 2012, said Epi Sopian, the head of Sanghiang Tanjung village.