With Nazariah Sahu Palar

26 July 17

When Nazariah Sahu Palar learned that in Aceh, the Indonesian province where she grew up, around 3,500 teachers and educators perished in the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, she knew she had to do something. So, together with a group of Deakin Indonesian Alumni, she set about making sure that education wouldn’t end up being the invisible casualty of the natural disaster.

Teaching the traumatised children of the tsunami was harrowing says Nazariah, ‘Some students from the tsunami areas came to my school and we had some students who were experiencing issues. I don’t like to use this word, but they were like zombies. It was hard to teach them, they didn’t want to talk and they were reluctant to take part in study. Some of the students had no accommodation, no transport.’

Nazariah was concerned about what impact the loss of so many educators would have on the education system in Aceh and feared that the children who were already suffering would be further disadvantaged. ‘I wanted the opportunity to contribute in some way to the rebuilding of the Aceh education system,’ she says. 

Working as part of a partnership between Deakin University and the Indonesian Government, they devised a course structure for using English as the language of instruction in class.

The project trialled in Nazariah’s hometown, and soon the alumni had expanded it to include a component that would help disadvantaged children.

‘We invited students from junior high school, who were disadvantaged, to come to our centre,’ says Nazariah. ‘We asked every school to send at least five students who had never undertaken an English course so we could give them an opportunity. So what we are doing is not just teaching, it is also assisting the wider community.’

'We asked every school to send at least five students who had never undertaken an English course so we could give them an opportunity. So what we are doing is not just teaching, it is also assisting the wider community.’

Nazariah’s desire to encourage and facilitate the education of children in her province is a deeply personal quest.

‘I anted to have an education but my parents couldn’t support me. After senior high school I didn’t go to university. I had a scholarship to go to university in Banda Aceh, but for cultural reasons, my parents thought it wasn’t suitable for a girl. I knew I could do it, but no one would support me!’

While teaching at a local school, Nazariah became committed to encouraging her students to study, especially those who, like her, were doing it despite limited support. 

‘With some of the students, their parents weren’t very encouraging and when it came to exam time we would go a long way to pick them up and I would say to the parents, “Just wait one more week until exams are finished then you can have your child back!”’


It was while studying at Deakin that Nazariah had what she calls her ‘ah-ha’ moment. ‘It suddenly all came together for me. All the things that happened in my life. I gained some theories and rationales to support what I did, and knew what I had to do in the future.’

‘I always think: if I give you money you may spend it in one day but if I give you experience and learning it will last your whole life.’

In 2011, Nazariah Sahu Palar was honoured with the Deakin Alumni of the Year Award.

‘I always think: if I give you money you may spend it in one day but if I give you experience and learning it will last your whole life.’

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