Indonesian children still in recovery mode one year after church bombing

Three-year-old Anita Sihotang is still too scared to leave her house. It has been just over a year since a terrorist threw a Molotov cocktail into the grounds of the church yard where she was playing in Indonesia’s East Kalimantan province. The explosion killed one of her friends, two-year-old Intan Banjarnahor, and seriously injured Anita and two others.

One year after the explosion that killed her best friend, five-year-old Trinity, seen here with her mother Sarinah, has to travel to China to receive specialist treatment for her burns
One year after the explosion that killed her best friend, five-year-old Trinity, seen here with her mother Sarinah, has to travel to China to receive specialist treatment for her burns. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

Anita’s mother Tetty says her daughter screams if she hears vehicle engines, thunder or fire. “It’s very depressing to see her cry and scream, ‘I’m scared’, over and over again, but not be able to explain what it is that scares her,” she says.

Trauma counselling is available but Tetty does not always manage to take her daughter to appointments because she is also looking after Anita’s elder brother and sister.

Five-year-old Alvaro had 17 operations in the first four months after the explosion and his parents say his burns have affected his self-confidence.
Five-year-old Alvaro had 17 operations in the first four months after the explosion and his parents say his burns have affected his self-confidence. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

The parents five-year-old Alvaro Sinaga, who had 17 operations in the first four months after the explosion, are still worried his hair may never grow back fully, but said very fine hairs have begun to grow back on many parts of his head that were badly burnt. His mother, Novita, said: “This is a miracle, because the doctor said that the right part of his head wouldn’t be able to grow hair anymore.”

She added that her son has overcome his fear of fire or explosion-like sounds through attending sessions with a hospital psychologist. “The counsellor will talk and play with him during these visits… The counselling sessions are really helping him,” she said. But she voiced concerns for the ongoing way the scarring has affected his confidence.

Financial gifts from friends and their church have enabled Alvaro’s father, Hotdiman, to stop work to help look after his son. A construction consultant, he had been working in West Borneo, more than 1,000 miles from home, when the attack took place.

At a trial in September, one of the perpetrators received a life sentence for his part in the attack. Juhanda bin Muhammad Aceng, 32, who reportedly wore a black T-shirt with the message, “Jihad Way of Life”, as he threw a Molotov cocktail from his passing motorbike, had been convicted for terrorism offences in 2011 and paroled in 2014. Later that year he was arrested again after he was found with an IS flag.

Four others, who had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group and were involved in the incident, received prison terms ranging from six to seven years.

Intan was just two when she lost her life and her mother Diana still cannot bear to be around the other children from the Sunday School
Intan was just two when she lost her life and her mother Diana still cannot bear to be around the other children from the Sunday School.  (Photo:  World Watch Monitor) 

Trinity’s mother, Sarinah Gultom, gave evidence at the trial. She cried as she described her child’s disfiguration after the blasts. After she left the dock she walked towards the defendants and said: “I forgive you. Please repent; no more innocent children killed and wounded. Mine is enough.”

Judge Surung Simanjuntak, of the East Jakarta District Court, granted compensation of about IDR 240,000,000 (US$17,600) to each of the victims and their families.

The families of Alvaro and Trinity said the compensation money will help pay for the children’s treatment, but they have yet to receive it.

Watch Trinity try her hand at photography here.

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