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Education is a basic human right, but for the children of Tanjung Padang village on Padang Island off the coast of Sumatra, there was a problem: the only way to reach their school a few kilometres away was across a fragile wooden bridge.

During bad weather the bridge could be slippery and, to avoid the risk of falling into the water, many children would miss school.

Crossing the small bridge could take 15 minutes or more as the children lined up to pass one at a time, causing pupils to be late for class.

That’s all changed thanks to the village’s participation in APRIL’s Fire Free Village Program (FFVP). The community used their IDR100 million reward for successfully preventing fires in 2016 to construct a concrete bridge on the road.

“This is the main road to get to the harbor and schools,” said Abu Sofyan, the village head. “This bridge is vital to daily activities and connectivity.”

One pupil is 13-year-old Rendy Kurniawan, who says he can now focus on getting good grades rather than worrying about the journey to school. “Once I fell from my bike and all my clothes were dirty and wet so I had to go back home,” says Rendy, who is in the second grade of Sukajadi Junior High School in Tanjung Padang.

“Most of my friends have also had the same experience. They ended up staying at home rather than going to school. Now, everything has changed.”

Tanjung Padang joined FFVP in 2016, following devastating fires the year before. The program combines education, training and economic incentives to encourage local communities to prevent fire on their land. While the prospect of an infrastructure grant was motivating, it was not the only reason the villagers agreed to join, said Sofyan. “The reward is not the only factor: we had a bad experience and we wanted to change and live with no fear.”

A key part of the program is helping local communities to clear land without resorting to the use of fire, and Tanjung Padang has been able to clear 20 hectares safely to grow pineapple and rubber trees, boosting the local economy.

For successfully preventing fire in 2016 the village was awarded IDR100 million to spend on infrastructure. The resulting bridge not only helps children get to school, but makes it easier to export and sell the produce from the growing local economy.

Tanjung Padang is one of the 27 villages that make up APRIL’s FFVP, and the community is already looking forward to receiving a reward for the second year running in recognition of their hard work in 2017.

“We need the prize money to build five more bridges like this,” said Sofyan. “These bridges are vital to connect us to the rest of the country.”

For students like Rendy and his friends the award means they can go to school safely. “Not only I can get to school on time but our village is also free from haze, and that is healthy,” he said.

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