By Martin Fletcher Correspondent
NBC News
updated 1/10/2005 7:38:45 PM ET 2005-01-11T00:38:45

For the first time since the tsunami struck, children here have a reason to smile. It was a first day of school like no other. Students saw their friends again — those who survived.

By 8 a.m. Monday morning, only one teacher had arrived at Primary School 77. Twenty-four-year-old Yulie was lucky during the tsunami — her home survived. She took a roll call of the students. Out of 500 pupils, only 14 showed up.

But there was another problem. There was no key to the classrooms because the principal has it. And Yulie says the principal was living in a very hard-hit area.

“Nobody knows where Dr. Ramli is,” says Yulie. “He is very popular. We are afraid he may be dead.”

But then, good news. The principal showed up.

Nobody knows yet how many of the missing pupils and teachers are alive or dead.

Dr. Ramli told his tiny class, “Thank God we are here today. We are very sorry for our friends and families who are victims of this catastrophe. We must pray for them.”

Then they quietly went home. Classes will start Tuesday.

At least these children have a school.

One thousand students, ages 14-17, study at the main middle school in Banda Aceh. But they won't be coming to classes any time soon, and it's pretty obvious why. The school is mostly rubble.

Vivi, 17, came to see what was left and hoped to find some friends. Most of them lived in the center of town — the area worst hit by the tsunami.

Where were her friends?

“Dead. A few dead,” says Vivi. “I'm sad, very sad.”

Four other students turned up out of 1,000. They waited and waited and then left. Maybe more will come tomorrow.

We found other children playing nearby. They hadn't found any friends at their school, either.

Even if they didn't learn anything in class Monday, the tsunami taught these children a lesson they'll never forget.

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