Thursday, February 17, 2005

Earthquake-Tsunami 2004 ~ Human Interest Stories

We have read so many coverage in media about the devastation in tsunami-hit areas in South and South East Asia, and mostly about the weak coordination, military/government control that hampers aid distribution, and health and relocation crises. However, now I'd like to share the human interest coverage of volunteers or aid-relief workers who were there sometime during the first month after the catastrophic tsunami hit the lives of so many people, and of the victims who are beginning to pick up their lives all over again... In the midst of deaths and despairs raise kindness, courage, and miracle beyond imagination ~ afterall, love for humanity is not dying but keeps going strong.


AFP, February 3, 2005

Nine tsunami survivors found on India's Andamans archipelago

Indian rescuers found nine survivors of December's tsunami disaster in the tropical Andamans archipelago near Thailand, police told AFP.

"It is a miracle, it is an act of God, that (they) are alive," said Shaukat Ali, police chief of Campbell Bay, the southernmost island in the Andamans and Nicobar chain.

He said five men, three children and one woman, all of them emaciated, were picked up by a police party on a random search 38 days after towering waves devastated the Indian Ocean archipelago on December 26.

"They lived off coconuts and coconut water for all these days," Ali said by telephone from Campbell Bay, one of the islands in the Andamans chain worst hit by the tsunami.

The survivors were found on a remote part of the island, some 39 kilometres (24 miles) from the naval base on Campbell Bay, Ali said.

Since the tsunami hit the string of 550 islands, almost 2,000 people have been listed dead and 555 still missing, mostly from the Island of Katchal.

News of the dramatic rescue elicited resounding cheers in Port Blair, which had sent the nine-member police team for a random search of the island.

Andamans police chief Shamsher Deol identified the nine survivors as members of the archipelago's Nicobari aboriginals.

The survivors took shelter on a hilltop when the waves slammed into the island, a statement from the Andamans' federally ruled administration said.

"Four or five days later they came down to the forest and they were completely disoriented in the heavy rain that lashed the area," it said.

"They came across a child belonging to the (Stone Age) Shompen tribe who taught them how to light a fire in the wilderness," the statement said.

According to one of the rescuers, the group of Nicobaris, with the help of the Shompen child, found boar meat one day and cooked it but largely survived on coconuts.

The island is thick with crocodile-infested mangroves and rescuers still have not managed to penetrate all its areas.

The rescuers used canoes to track down the survivors, the statement said, and they themselves were endangered at one point when a canoe overturned in the choppy seas.

Stone Age tribal groups on the archipelago largely survived the tsunami, which destroyed the infrastructure of the Andamans, setting back development for dozens of years.

The Nicobaris, numbering 29,000 in the Andamans, are largely integrated with modern civilisation and fared less well in the devastation.


The Christian Science Monitor
Friday, February 4, 2005

One Man's Mission to Bring Relief to Cut-Off Villages
By Daniel B. Wood Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Galvanized by images of the disaster, Sam Schultz bought a plane ticket, hired a boat and crew, and was soon sailing down Indonesia's Sumatran coast to help survivors.

Lhokruet, Indonesia -- “With binoculars pressed to his eyes, Sam Schultz stands at the captain's helm of the Sumber Rejeki Baru, a 100-ft. cargo boat bobbing off the coast of Sumatra (see map). For several hours, the vessel has coasted alongside a mist-kissed rainforest - a paradise stained at its base by a 30-foot-highring of barren earth.

Hundreds of miles of shoreline have been denuded; only a brownish brine is left. A coastal road has been scraped away, and palm trees and bridges clog beaches.

"This is unbelievable," says Mr. Schultz, a onetime Californian who has lived in Bali for 20 years. "A month ago, this was a shoreline of thriving communities, boats, villages, and fishermen. Now... nothing."

Schultz is a regular guy: husband, father of two, businessman, history buff. But the cargo on his boat - buckets filled with hammers and saws, stacks of corrugated roofing, food, and toys - tells the story of how the steely housing contractor, galvanized by the devastation on TV - transformed himself into a kind of archangel of aid. A veteran of aid missions - East Timor, Guatemala, Nepal - he says the current need is "greater than any I have seen in our lifetimes."

Putting his own time and money on the line, intercepting and coordinating other Good Samaritans, Schultz and a handful of others have tackled the improbable and the impossible to provide immediate assistance to Sumatran villages that have lost their traditional sources of food and supplies and are difficult to reach by air.

For the team on the Sumber Rejeki Baru, that meant taking on the role of a marine-based search-and-rescue team - charitable entrepreneurs who can move nimbly while the giant aid groups got into gear.

"This is one of the really amazing stories of how people from all kinds of organizations all over the world have come together to come up with unusual solutions... to fill immediate needs," says Bettina Luescher, spokeswoman in Banda Aceh for the World Food Program, the largest provider of food relief in the world. "These people are the crucial link at the crucial stage, doing what the larger organizations are just not yet set up to do."

Just minutes after watching pictures of the tsunami, Schultz got on the phone. First he called friends ("What should we do?"), then a local aid organization ("I'm ready if you need me").

Then he bought a plane ticket - along with his best friend, Lee - to Padang, a small town on the East coast of Sumatra.

A "people person" who speaks fluent Indonesian, and self-professed "pushy guy who gets what I want, and I want to help," Schultz, along with his pal, began buying 6-1/2-gallon buckets. With a dozen volunteers from a hotel in Padang, they filled them one by one: tarpaulin, cooking pot, oil, soap, saw, axe. ("I know what people who have lost everything need," he says.)

While looking for a way to transport these kits to devastated areas, Schultz met two representatives from AUSAID, the Australian aid agency, at a local bar. Teaming up, the trio flew a quick reconnaissance mission north to Sibolga, looking for a place to bring in deliveries. No good: bad roads, inaccessible airport, no goods on the ground to buy.

Next, Schultz tried to find local operators with a boat big enough to carry hundreds of tons of cargo but small enough to get into tiny, possibly damaged ports.

On the river in Padang, he spotted his quarry: the Sumber Rejeki Baru, ready with Indonesian captain and a crew of 14. Price: 60 million rupiah (about $6,000 US) per week. Contracting the boat in the name of AUSAID and IDEP, an Indonesian aid group, the foursome spent two days filling it with anything they could buy, requisition, or scrounge: nearly 800 lbs. of medicine, tons of rice, tools. With funding from IDEP, Bali friends, and Schultz's own wallet - about $40,000 total - the group began a series of trips up and down the coast.

On his first voyage, Schultz took five colleagues from Bali, three doctors, three Indonesian nurses and two volunteers.

They visited several small villages, taking a small dinghy ashore to locate and talk to local Indonesian military officials about casualties and to assess needs. The crew settled on the final destination of Calang (pronounced Chalang) - a town of 14,000 that lost all but about 3,500 residents.

On board for Schultz's first voyage was Stefan Zawada, a Polish chef, motorcycle buff, and Rotary Club member from Bali who had done similar work in Yugoslavia. The Rotary Club and his restaurant, Pergola, are supporting his mission. "They need help, man," he says. "We are showing our fellow human beings that we care.... We might need help someday and maybe it will come back. If not, it's worthwhile anyway."

While doctors and nurses ministered to survivors on shore in Calang, Zawada filled a sack with medical supplies and headed inland on foot. He got as far as a bridge that had been lifted 30 feet upriver and turned on its side. Crawling across on his knees, he encountered dozens of survivors, old and young living beneath a canopy of trees filled with scores of bodies.

Zawada doled out medicine, water, protein bars, and chocolate. He helped dress wounds before retracing his steps.

Meanwhile, Schultz met the military commander in charge of Calang. "He told me that if I was another aid organization here to do another assessment of needs, to just get on my boat and get the hell out of here," says Schultz. "He had had it with all these people flying in to do nothing but take up his time and energy... adding to his security problems... He didn't like it."

The crew offloaded their buckets of tools and 40 tons of rice in Calang over three days. Then Schultz and company headed to Banda Aceh for more volunteers, aid workers, and cargo.

Jonas Wiahl, a Swede who works with German Agro Action, had also seen the tsunami on TV and made his way to Banda Aceh. Like Schultz, he scoured the region for goods and volunteers. Then he used his own NGO's funds to purchase sugar, salt, cooking oil, and toys. He and his partner ended up spending $13,000 on tarpaulins, cooking pots, stoves, kerosene, and thousands of dolls.

When he met Schultz and Zawada at the dock, he decided to share costs - and the Sumber Rejeki Baru headed out again.

The boat, which hosts the occasional rat and four-inch cockroach, is the kind that inspires jokes, the sort that aren't funny on land but somehow keep a full deck of hot and weary aid workers, journalists, and translators in stitches of laughter. "This is a boat you don't want to board at first glance," says one crew member.

"At the second glance, you really don't want to board," says another. "If you get close enough for a third glance, it's too late - they've set sail," laughs a third.

But compared with some of the rusting - and far smaller - trawlers that pass by, overloaded with refugees, the Sumber Rejeki Baru looks like the Queen Mary.

Over the next several hours, Schultz and Zawada survey the landscape through binoculars, trying to find a landing spot. By about 5 p.m., the ship anchors just south of Lamno, at Lhokruet.

Onshore reconnaissance at dusk reveals that 200 to 300 people show up on these shores every morning. Schultz also comes face to face with a commander of the Indonesian military waiting with about a dozen automatic rifle-toting troops. Schultz talks with them, and offers them boxes of cigarettes. Meanwhile, Zawada heads up a road, returning two hours later with news that about a dozen separatist rebels are staying in the hills. Their presence complicates the
operation that will unfold the next morning.

After a night so hot that most people sleep on the deck, Schultz, Wiahl, and others take a single skiff boat ashore at 6 a.m. to prepare to distribute aid. Separately, in a dinghy, the Indonesian crew ferries supplies to the beach. Zawada takes another small skiff up the coast, bailing water as he goes, to hike further inland.

Back at the beach of Lhokruet, no villagers have appeared by 8 a.m. By 9 a.m only a handful of women have shown up. Schultz surmises that it is the presence of separatist guerrillas known as GAM that has kept people away.

GAM is a guerrilla force of about 3,000, backed by another 9,000 who might be prepared to fight for independence, in a conflict that has endured for 30 years. Supporters are sprinkled throughout the province, providing an added tension to the aid process.

Just before the tsunami hit, the Indonesian military had vowed to "exterminate" the rebels, and was undertaking an offensive. The tsunami has brought a formal cease-fire, but several skirmishes have been reported around Banda Aceh.

"This area has been under martial law for the past two years, so it is understandable that the men [in the villages] are afraid. They don't know what's going to happen," Schultz says.

But by about 9.30, a string of women and children appear, walking down a road out of the forest. They say they have come from a village 3-1/2 miles away.

Schultz, Wiahl, and others begin to organize the gathering crowd into a long line and then distribute the waiting goods individually, to each person in line. "Entre, entre, entre (line up, line up, line up!)" yells Schultz, telling the women how to proceed. "Mundur, mundur (step back)," he tells the few younger boys.

Schultz is clear about who should get the aid. "I want to get these goods into the hands of women because I know they will not hoard it for themselves," he says. "With the males, I can't be sure."

The women place 40-lb. bags of rice on their heads, gather tubes of toothpaste, hand soap, bottles of oil, apple juice and disappear down the road.

Some of the women carry the goods out of sight, and then return for more. One displays her 18-day-old baby whom she named Rahmat ("blessed") Tsunami.

The villagers reveal that they have plenty of rice, which has been dropped off by US helicopters and is sitting in a wood-covered compound on the adjacent hill. What they haven't had - until now - are other essentials: soap, soap powder, antiseptic, tarps, stoves.

One 16-year-old girl named Kaida, wearing a green scarf, smiles as she fills her arms with Lifebuoy soap and Pepsodent.

A 16-year-old boy, Rafid, emerges to explain that no one in his village was killed by the tsunami, but that the villagers have no food. Beside him, an older woman tears open a plastic bag filled with six soccer balls that have gone unnoticed by the gathering crowd. "This ball is for me," she giggles.

Then, because the beach at Lhokruet is too small to offload 1,700 sheets of corrugated roof iron - and Schultz knows the need is greater at Calang - Schultz decides to disembark.

Two hours later, at dusk, the ship pulls into harbor at Calang. Schultz sees progress from his earlier visit. There are more tents and more people on land, and more boats offshore.

But there is still frustration and confusion, nearly one month after the tsunami. Only four German doctors are there, along with a French medical team and a couple of Irish medics. There is an Indonesian tanker carrying 300 tons of supplies - which it can't offload because they don't have the right equipment and there's no dock. A group of Indonesians in a wooden skiff is ferrying stacks of clothes onshore. Suddenly they become frustrated and begin
throwing them in the water.

"This is more evidence that no one knows what is going on in Calang," says Schultz. "Otherwise they wouldn't have sent a ship that big, with cargo that can't [easily] be taken ashore."

Onshore, he surveys the situation and is remembered by the Indonesian commander, who orders two marine amphibious transports to help offload his cargo.

One of the German doctors, a man called "Fish," curses the inefficiency of large aid groups that still have no presence in Calang.

"Everything is going to Meulaboh and Banda Aceh, and we have nothing," he says. A package with 3,500 units of measles vaccine was left unopened in a tent 50 yards away from where doctors and nurses were waiting to vaccinate waiting children. In the confusion, no one opened it until its expiration date had passed.

Back on the boat, Schultz, Zawada, Wiahl, and others say that things have gotten much better ashore but remain at an emergency level.

Stefan Templeton, an American member of a French dive-and-rescue unit, says the frustration there is compounded because teams of medics are waiting nearby to get into Calang, but "the helicopters remain full of journalists who come to take pictures and leave, and assessors who just continue to fill out assessment forms."

"You can see that what is happening to help people here is only a tiny drop in the bucket of what has to happen," says Schultz. "And we must remember that patchwork aid is only a temporary measure. What these people need most is tools, fishhooks, nets... things to set them back to a life of working for themselves.

"A person who is sitting on the beach or in a displaced-persons camp waiting for handouts is lost," he observes. "A person rebuilding his own life is found."

As he leaves Calang, Schultz is bone-tired. But he's already planning another mission. If he can put together a team, he'll head back to Banda Aceh, get more supplies, and travel again down the coast.

His motivation for a month of flat-out, 20-hour days is simple, he says. He is inspired by his family's Quaker roots and his father's example of doing right by others.

"The Quakers' real name is Society of Friends," he says, "and we treat everyone we deal with as if they are our friend. My friends are in trouble. That's it."


The Jakarta Post
Saturday, February 5, 2005

'I don't want to be striken by grief'
By Dedy Ardiansyah, Contributor/Banda Aceh

It is really painful to lose loved ones. Only a few people can overcome the grief that comes with this loss. Retika, 20, however, always looks cheerful even though she has lost her parents and one of her siblings. Usually called Rere, she smiles at everyone she meets.

Rere is the third of five children. Three of her siblings were spared, because when the tsunami struck, they were not in Meulaboh. Her elder brother was in Banda Aceh while her elder sister and a younger sibling were in Medan.

After the disaster, Rere stayed in Medan for a week but then decided to return to her hometown and start her life over again without her parents.

When the tsunami struck her neighborhood, she was saved by First Lt. Ferry, who carried her to a jambu air (rose-apple) tree. Unfortunately, Ferry was unable to save himself. He died while still clinging to the tree. When the water subsided, Rere climbed down the tree and fled for safety.

While running, Rere briefly met her father, who told her to keep on running. He gave her a piece of wood to hold on to.

Before she had run very far, however, seawater came rushing inland again and dragged her to the front of a mosque. She tried to climb onto the roof of the mosque but could no longer see her father. "I saw my father being dragged out to sea. That was our last meeting," she said, still trying to smile.

When you look at Rere, you could hardly guess that she had lost her parents and one of her siblings in the devastating natural disaster on Dec. 26, 2004. Nurleli, a fellow broadcaster at Radio Suara Aceh FM, was also surprised when she learned of what had befallen Rere.

"I admire her struggle to fight her grief. At first I did not think she was one of the tsunami victims because she was always cheerful and laughing," she said.

Her other fellow broadcasters at the radio station have realized that Rere is keeping her grief to herself. Hana Pangaribuan said she could detect grief in Rere's eyes. "She tries to look cheerful and joke with others but I can see the sadness in her eyes," she said.

Rere said using her experience as a broadcaster at Radio Suara Aceh FM, an emergency radio station set up by Prapanca FM Trijaya Network in Meulaboh, West Aceh has helped her to forget her own pain. In fact, before the tsunami she spent two years working as a radio broadcaster. Now, she can be heard between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. local time every day on her own program, which targets young people.

During her program, songs popular among youngsters will be played. Rere also frequently gives advice to her young listeners, asking them not to be overcome by their grief.

"For the last two weeks, we have given her a program intended for youngsters. Hopefully, this will cheer her up," said Awin Bastamta, who is responsible for Radio Suara Aceh FM.

After finishing her program that day, Rere took The Jakarta Post to take a look at the ruins of her house in Ujung Karang, Johan Pahlawan district, Meulaboh. Rere talked a lot about how she tried to put that dark day behind her when the tsunami struck the house from three different directions: the side, the front and the back.

In this neighborhood, all buildings were completely destroyed. Her house, an orange two-story house, was also flattened.

"It is not that I'm not sad. I realize that I still have a future ahead of me so I don't want to succumb to grief," she said when asked about how she felt about her loss.

A fan of singer Krisdayanti, Rere said that in the first week after the disaster, she was deeply saddened. She found it difficult to forget what had happened to her.

Every day she burst into tears when she remembered that she had lost both parents, one of her younger siblings, her grandmother and a nephew in the tsunami. She had searched for her parents in many places from Blang Pidie to Tapaktuan.

In the second week, however, Rere realized that there was no use grieving. Every night she performed her tahajjut prayers, asking God to give her strength. She now gains new spirit when she remembers her parents.

"When I fled to safety, I felt as if my parents were smiling and truly willing to let me go," she said.

She observed Idul Adha (the Muslim Day of Sacrifice) alone this year. Rere also paid her respects at the mass grave in Ujung Karang, not far from her house, hoping that her parents were buried there in peace.

Now Rere is staying with Ayu, one of her friends. She said she was happy staying there in the warm family atmosphere. During the day, she works at the radio station, greeting her listeners cheerfully.

"Assalamualaikum (Peace be with you). Listeners, you are still with me. This is Rere here at Suara Aceh, a post-tsunami emergency radio station in Meulaboh. How are you this afternoon? Hopefully, better than yesterday.

"I hope we will not be overwhelmed by grief. Let's welcome a better tomorrow together. Well, this is a song by Gigi called Last Love," Rere said, greeting her listeners.


The Age (Melbourne)
Monday, February 7, 2005

A Moment of Magic Amid Aceh's Despair
By Matthew Moore

Lamno, Aceh -- Almost everyone is on a hopeless search, but one family breaks the circle of

Tears of grief are still falling across Aceh's tsunami-devastated west coast, but Cutchairiah is one of the few people here with reason to cry tears of joy.

In a land where everyone seems on a hopeless search for lost loved ones, the primary school teacher was reunited with all three of her children early yesterday, six weeks after she believed the tsunami had swept them all to their deaths.

She had been told two weeks ago that her family were alive, but when reality hit home, the joy was overwhelming.

She was in the classroom where she has been living as a refugee since she lost her house, getting ready for bed with the other women, when she turned towards the opening door.

Through the window you could see in her face that moment of hesitation as three figures ran in, that instant of disbelief as she struggled to accept they really were her children tearing towards her. And then she grabbed them, clutching at each one with arms that said they would never let go, pulling their heads to her breast as she sobbed and sobbed.

With hollow eyes, 30 others in the temporary camp gazed through the glass in disbelief. People such as Martunis, who lost his wife and children and parents and was transfixed by the reunion.

"This is the first since I've been here that I've seen a family get back together," he said.

Next to him stood Yusup, getting used to life without a family, who said how happy he was with what he saw. "I hope my family is in some other place and will make it back here, too," he said.

They were happy that someone had finally found their children, but their eyes seem to ask how could it be that one woman got all her children back when they had none.

In a place where newspapers are still half-filled with advertisements seeking information about missing relatives, the idea of finding someone alive is almost beyond belief.

And although she said it was "beyond my dreams" to have found her family alive, their first night together was touched with pain as the children demanded answers about the fate of their friends.

"They asked everything. They asked about each cousin, about who they sit next to at school. I told them they were all gone," she said.

"I told them that those who died are now in heaven. This is the life God has given us, this is the test from God, so the lesson is we should not forget God in everything we do. We have to pray everyday so we survive."

Cutchairiah had been in Banda Aceh, 80 kilometres to the north, buying special foods for the Islamic festival of Eid al-Adha when the tsunami struck. Her children survived because they were with their father in Meulaboh, 160 kilometres south of their home in Lamno, where they were staying in their grandmother's house.

That house was just 200 metres from the sea, and as each day brought worse news to Banda Aceh about the devastation in Meulaboh, Cutchairiah grew more fearful that her children and husband, Jaddal Husainik, had perished.

She had to go home to Lamno, but was too scared of the water to take a boat. And so, 11 days after the tsunami hit, she set off alone on foot against the orders of family members in Banda Aceh.

"I told (them) that even if they kill me I will go. God let me survive so surely they will let me get to Lamno," she said.

She walked all day and all night past hundreds of dead bodies until she got home, where she found that half of the 48 villages in Lamno had disappeared, including hers. Her house was gone and so, too, was her school, and every one of the teachers and the principal.

Not knowing what to do, or the fate of her family, she moved into the classroom where she still lives. Several days later, she met a cousin who told her that her husband and children had survived in Meulaboh.

They were out of their house when the tsunami hit and, although caught in ater up to their waists, managed to scramble onto the top floor of a shop.

Her husband went to Lamno alone to search for his wife. He found her, collected the children in Meulaboh and spent two weeks taking them across Sumatra to Medan, then up the coast to Banda Aceh, where they boarded the boat that took them to their mother.

- With Katuni Rompies


Sydney Morning herald
Monday, February 7, 2005

Angel of Thailand Back on the Front Line
By Ellen Connolly

Jess Maulder places her hand on the boy's forehead. He has a fever and is dehydrated. "Please help," his father, Munass Hiqmith, pleads. "Make better. He has typhoid."

Jess, a 20-year-old medical student from Melbourne, is in great demand here on Sri Lanka's east coast, where she is one of only a handful of international volunteers working in the refugee camps for the survivors of the tsunami. But this is not the first time she has been face to face with the effects of the tsunami.

Just over a month ago, she abandoned her holiday in Thailand for a makeshift morgue 250 kilometres south of Phuket, where she worked with forensic experts to identify the thousands of tsunami victims.

When she returned home she felt compelled to do more. She decided to use the remainder of her university holidays to bring relief to Arugam Bay in Sri Lanka - and this time brought her brother, Tim, 21, from Sydney.

The tsunami inflicted its worst on Arugam Bay. Waves 13 metres high came two kilometres inland, killing more than 200 people and crushing thousands of homes. But the wave was just the beginning.

Malaria, typhoid, tuberculosis and scabies are spreading and medicine, clean water and food are in short supply. The once idyllic spot has received no aid from the Government and has been largely ignored by relief organisations. For Jess and Tim, it was a shock. They had had been on holiday there with their parents a year earlier and found the residents so kind. That was why they wanted to help.

"A month after and people are still without kerosene lamps, without vegetables," Jess says. "There are no shops for people to buy anything. There's no bridge to connect them to the town and no doctor here at night time."

As a result, the work can, at times, seem overwhelming. When she visits the refugee camps in the area, desperate parents present their sick children to her. Families want food.

Jess works with locals to bring aid to the camps. Some days she delivers vegetables and baby formula to families or hand out pens and books to the children. On others she acts as doctor - whether stitching wounds, diagnosing heart attacks or counselling grieving families. "We're not changing the world, but it's something," she says.

When she and her brother first arrived she worked with locals to help build a bakery and a road. But when she visited the refugee camps she realised where she should be. Families needed vegetables. People needed health care. Many were not taking the correct medication. "One guy was taking vitamin C for a really bad cough. I can't believe it," Jess says - she has worked part-time at a pharmacy in Melbourne for the past two years.

On a visit to Jumma Mosque camp, fathers jostle through the crowds to present their children. Among them is A. Thasleem. He lost his four-year-old son to the tsunami, and is scared his remaining son, aged one, is dying of a spleen infection. He holds him up for her to examine.

Jess and a British volunteer, Sue Sivarajah, reassure him his baby is not dying. They arrange for the baby to be taken to the nearby hospital for tests and for Mr Thasleem, who has been suffering nightmares, to see a psychologist.

Jess tells him: "You must eat to be strong for your wife and baby."

She says some in the camps are not taking the medication correctly. L.M. Milmbakker, 28, a father of two, stopped taking his antibiotics because he thought his cough had gone. "You are still coughing. I can hear it. You must finish all the tablets even if you feel better," she instructs him.

She says some of the people still have seawater in their lungs from the tsunami, a condition that can kill if not treated.

M. Hiqmith says his son was given medication for typhoid fever but has not improved. She arranges for a doctor to visit him.

Jess says she was not there to diagnose people but rather to take details and get doctors to visit. But sometimes she finds herself thrust into situations.

She recalls how last Wednesday she was called to treat a man who had a deep wound to his head because there was not a doctor in the area. Using limited medical equipment, she stitched his head using thin and thick thread. "It was a piece of art," she laughs. "I've only stitched artificial skin before. It was really weird doing it on someone's actual head."

At the Crocodile Rock camp, Jess instructs the village leader to compile a list of the sick.

She also gets details of the number of families at each camp so she can supply vegetable and hygiene packs to them, and milk formula to babies. "At the moment some babies are being given the wrong formula and the mothers don't know how to use it. It's a little bit disorganised."

There are no toys for the children so Jess and Tim provide pens and books and cricket bats and balls.

"They all love my zinc. It reminds them of Shane Warne," Tim says as he paints some on the boys' noses. He has been working with locals to build a new road, the only land access, to the area but downplays his efforts.

Dr John Dale, a volunteer from British Colombia, tells the Herald he has seen cases of malaria, TB, typhoid, diarrhoea, scabies and kidney infections. "This is probably the most ignored area in the country. All the non-government organisations are set up in the main street, which is no use."

Jess says her time here has been extremely rewarding.

In Thailand she was surrounded by bodies in the morgue, and worked with families who had lost all hope of finding their loved ones alive. Here she believes she can instil some hope. "We've come to this camp every day and it's good to see things improving even if it's just a little. Now I know what the problems are and what they need."

Mambo, a local who has been instrumental in the reconstruction, says: "It makes us feel good they come back. We lost everything but we did not lose our friends."

Jess will return to Melbourne in a few weeks to begin her second-year medical studies at Monash University. But, she says, there is no time to think about going home. Food deliveries are due at another camp.

Says Luce Thiry, a French volunteer: "She's a kind of wonder woman. When I look at her I am tired."


Kompas, Feb. 8, 2005

Solidaritas Imlek buat Anak Pengungsi

Warga keturunan Tionghoa memaknai Imlek sebagai wahana berkumpulnya keluarga untuk mengucap syukur dan menjalin silaturahmi. Kali ini, Imlek akan bermakna lain bagi ratusan anak-anak keturunan Tionghoa asal Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam (NAD), yang sejak sebulan terakhir melewati hari-harinya di tempat pengungsian.

Berbeda dibandingkan tahun-tahun sebelumnya, kali ini warga keturunan Tionghoa asal NAD-yang kini mengungsi di Medan, Sumatera Utara-umumnya merayakan Imlek dengan anggota keluarga tidak lagi utuh.

Vera Elin (8), salah satu anak di pengungsian itu, terpaksa harus memendam kerinduannya akan belaian kasih sang ibu yang biasanya memberinya angpau. Bocah perempuan itu juga hanya bisa mengenang kenakalan salah satu adiknya yang suka menjambak rambut kakak- kakaknya ketika sedang rebutan kue penganan Imlek.

Mery, ibunda Vera, adalah satu di antara ribuan warga keturunan Tionghoa di Banda Aceh yang turut hilang tersapu gelombang tsunami tanggal 26 Desember 2004. Mery hilang bersama seorang anaknya, Vina (5).

Kini hanya sang ayah, Elin Syaiful (42), yang mengurus tiga anaknya yang lolos dari maut: Vivi (10), Vera (8), dan Viktor (1). Sama seperti pengungsi warga keturunan Tionghoa lainnya, keluarga Elin Syaiful pun memaknai Imlek kali ini dengan doa syukur bercampur rasa duka dan haru.

Syukur karena Tuhan masih mengizinkan sejumlah anggota keluarganya berkumpul merayakan Imlek. Rasa duka menyeruak karena sejumlah anggota keluarga yang dicintai kini tidak bisa lagi berkumpul. Adapun rasa haru muncul tak lain karena orang-orang dari luar kalangan keluarga secara spontan dan tulus mengulurkan bantuan kebutuhan sehari- hari, bahkan mengizinkan mereka menumpang hidup pada sejumlah rumah tangga.

Uluran tangan dari berbagai latar belakang sosial budaya dan ekonomi memang mengalir untuk menyokong hidup mereka: mulai dari tahap pencarian korban yang selamat, pengangkutan mereka dari Banda Aceh ke Medan, penampungan mereka, hingga pembiayaan pendidikan bagi anak-anaknya.

Aksi solidaritas digalang oleh Perhimpunan Indonesia- Tionghoa Medan. Awalnya, 6.000-7.000 warga keturunan ditampung di tenda-tenda. Kemudian mereka dikumpulkan di rumah serba guna di Kawasan Metal, Medan. Secara berangsur, satu per satu keluarga ditumpangkan pada warga Medan tanpa memandang perbedaan agama dan suku. Di antara warga pengungsi tersebut, terdapat sekitar 6.000 anak-anak usia di bawah lima tahun (balita), ditambah 200 lainnya anak usia sekolah dasar (6-12 tahun).

Ketika Direktur Jenderal Pendidikan Luar Sekolah dan Pemuda Depdiknas Fasli Jalal mengunjungi pusat aktivitas penanganan pengungsi warga Tionghoa di Kawasan Metal, akhir Januari, sedang berlangsung bakti sosial penghimpunan dana buat pendidikan anak-anak pengungsi dan keberlangsungan hidup pengungsi pada umumnya. Kegiatan itu berlangsung tiap Sabtu-Minggu. Dana yang terhimpun nantinya antara lain dibagikan dalam bentuk angpau buat anak-anak pengungsi, sebagian lagi akan disimpan untuk biaya pendidikan mereka.

Kalau biasanya hanya warga Tionghoa yang menyediakan angpau untuk Imlek, kali ini sokongan angpau datang dari berbagai kalangan.

Partisipasi Depdiknas tidak dalam bentuk angpau, melainkan berupa program pemberdayaan. Badan Pengembangan Pendidikan Luar Sekolah dan Pemuda (BP- PLSP) Regional I Medan menerjunkan sejumlah relawan untuk memberikan konseling trauma bagi anak-anak pengungsi tersebut.

Demi memperluas layanan konseling trauma bagi anak- anak pengungsi yang tersebar di wilayah NAD dan Sumatera Utara, Direktorat Jenderal Pendidikan Luar Sekolah dan Pemuda Depdiknas, tanggal 28 Januari-1 Februari lalu, melatih 80 tenaga pengelola kelompok bermain di BP-PLSP Regional I Medan. Bekerja sama dengan Unicef, Depdiknas akan menerjunkan 1.000 guru maupun relawan yang khusus memulihkan trauma anak-anak pengungsi. Tahap awal, mereka akan disebar di 500 lokasi pengungsian, termasuk di lokasi pengungsian anak-anak keturunan Tionghoa itu merayakan Imlek.... (Nasrullah Nara)


Asia Times
Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Rebuilding Homes and Hearts in Aceh
By Andreas Harsono - Inter Press Service

Lamno, Indonesia - Muhammad Ali finished a plate of fried noodles, sipped a glass of cold tea and lamented about his misfortune in a coffee shop at the market in small town Lamno, about 200 kilometers south of the Acehnese capital Banda Aceh.

"No amount of aid can bring back the lives of any of my children," he said, lighting his cigarette and looking at a relief truck from the aid organization World Vision that was distributing plastic buckets, soap bars, cooking utensils, batteries and other essentials at a refugee camp behind the market.

Foreign aid workers, particularly medics, continue to pour into tsunami-ravaged Aceh as the aid operation moves into a second phase, with rescue workers beginning to look at ways of providing long-term support. Initial fears of a post-tsunami disease explosion prompted the huge influx of medical resources, but with no sign of epidemic doctor's caseloads have fallen sharply.

"The peak of the emergency operation is behind us," said a United Nations official. "The difficult part starts now."

Six weeks on from the disaster, aid workers are focusing on rebuilding and returning people to their former homes. More than 400,000 people were left homeless in Aceh as a result of the December 26 earthquake and tsunami. At least 225,000 others are dead or missing.

Pining for loved ones lost
Ali used to be a keuchik (village head) in his coastal hamlet of Cot Dulan, near Lamno, before he married Yusmanida, a woman from Ujung Muloh - a fishing village about a 15-minute walk from the market.

They married about 15 years ago and Ali moved to Yusmanida's village to become a trader. He bought a piece of land and then started a small business venture. Yusmanida later gave birth to a son and two daughters.

Like most Acehnese, Ali and Yusmanida lived with their kin; Yusmanida's parents and grandmother were a permanent part of the family. But Ali's tranquil life changed drastically on December 26, when the killer waves washed away the whole of Ujung Muloh. Only 21 people survived, and Ali was one of them.

"It was one of the first villages hit by the waves," said Hendi, a hardware seller in the market.

"As the water started rising fast from the first wave, we started running. Then the second wave hit," Ali recalled. "It was huge - as tall as a coconut tree, maybe 20-30 meters high."

Ali held on to his youngest daughter, who was only 10 days old. Yusmanida, who had not fully recovered from the delivery, was assisted by her mother. The couple's 13-year-old son Suheri Akhar and 11-year-old daughter Santrina ran together behind their parents. As they ran, the two also held on tight to their great-grandmother.

They managed to escape from the first rush of water, but the second huge wave swallowed the whole family.

"I was submerged. I swam and appeared on the surface to find out that I was already at sea. It was more than one kilometer from my house," Ali said. "I checked my baby daughter, not sure, whether she was dead or still alive. The water was moving so fast. I had to let her go," he added, tears welling in his eyes.

A third wave carried Ali to Alumi, three villages away from Ujung Muloh.

"A tree trunk hit my back when I was in the water. I also suffered some bleeding in my left forehead," he said, pointing to a black scar that marks his face.

In the water, Ali managed to hang onto a wooden plank that floated toward a coconut tree. When he reached the tree he grabbed it and hung on until the water subsided. When he came down from the coconut tree, he saw corpses everywhere, he said.

Still staring blankly at the World Vision truck outside the coffee shop, Ali said he had lost his wife, his children, his mother-in-law, his wife's grandmother, his gold deposit, his money, house and everything else.

"Only my father-in-law survived. He was fishing at sea then," Ali revealed.

Mustafa Ibrahim, a schoolteacher who helped organize grassroots support among the Lamno villagers, said Ali was a broken man after having lost his immediate family. "But at least he is alive. And I think he has to be thankful for that."

Ibrahim and many villagers who live in downtown Lamno helped victims such as Ali - setting up temporary shelters in school buildings and feeding survivors.

The tsunami cut off Lamno as well as neighboring Calang from the outside world, when it swept away bridges linking the towns to the main highways. Outside help only arrived in Lamno seven days after the disaster.

"If outside help did not arrive, we might have faced starvation as food supplies were almost gone," said Ibrahim.

Joel Thaher of the Ratna Sarumpaet Crisis Center, a Jakarta-based non-governmental group that manages the Gle Putoh camp in Lamno, said relief agencies were still relying on helicopters and boats to bring in food and medicine.

"The bridges and roads are still badly damaged," he said.

Returning to New York after a week-long tour of Aceh a month after the deadly Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, John L McCullough, executive director of the international humanitarian agency Church World Service said: "Survivors in Aceh are beginning to pick up their lives, but their needs continue to be almost overwhelming.

"This territory cannot be left idle or left in the lurch to rebuild," he said in a plea to the international community.

"Recovery of the dead is still going on - and the international community is very much involved," McCullough said. "But the world community must stay focused and present for what will be long-term recovery in these worst-hit tsunami regions."

McCullough echoed a plea from the United Nations on Wednesday for world governments to keep their pledge promises for tsunami recovery. According to the UN, almost two-thirds of the money promised by governments to help the millions of people affected by the tsunami has yet to be received by the world body.

So far, only US$360 million have been received - little more than a third of the total $977 million needed for the projected first six months of emergency phase relief work.


The Boston Globe
February 16, 2005

Letter from Banda Aceh
By Laurence Ronan

This city of 400,000 is in shambles, a third of it completely wiped off the earth, another third under water and mud. Imagine if a wave took out Dorchester, South Boston, Back Bay, and the South End, leaving only a few sticks that were trees and no buildings, just foundations. Well over 100,000 people died here and along the nearby coast.

At the University Hospital all 300 patients and most of the staff drowned or were buried in the mud when the tsunami came. The hospital lost everything -- people, equipment, and buildings. They are still pulling bodies out of the mud.

The hospital director lost his wife and children but showed up the next day to dig out his hospital. Heroic.

We're taking the sickest patients on board our hospital ship Mercy. One of our newest patients is a little boy who was found floating on a board by fisherman two days after the tsunami. He was sent first to a refugee camp, where an uncle found him and told him that his mother and father were dead.

The boy has developed a serious case of ''mud pneumonia" from all the water he swallowed and is now on a respirator fighting for his life.

He is a favorite of the ship's medical team because he represents the struggles and courage of so many of the people here hit by the tsunami. Every person I meet has a similar story. To put this in perspective, our medical team visited a small school in the nearby town of Lamnos yesterday where only 20 of the 120 kids are left.

If I could dream, I'd fix the hospital's pediatric building, truly one of the saddest places I've encountered. It smells of urine, incense, mud, and human excrement. It's dirty and filled with flies and mosquitoes. There are no toys for the children.

It, too, went under the giant wave and the mud that came next. Nearly all of its patients were lost in the tsunami. A few survivors are here, huddled in cribs or cots in corners throughout the building with their parents or siblings camped beside them. Many of the kids are suffering from ''mud pneumonia," having been overwhelmed by the tsunami; they swallowed and aspirated seawater and mud. These children are slowly dying, daily growing thinner and breathing more heavily.

One child sits outside with the cats and dogs, his 12-year-old sister beside him. They lost their parents and four brothers in the flood. Terribly devoted to one another, they share one plate of food between them and make sure each carefully has his or her proper share.

Most of the parents are in shock. Many live in the displaced persons camps. All have lost someone and hope for their return. The great horror of the tsunami is not knowing what happened to a loved one.

Stressed, a mother delivers prematurely, a 30-week-old preemie, 4 pounds. We likely would save this child in Boston; here, she dies slowly, quietly, in front of our eyes.

The children are listless and won't play. They don't cry. And they don't respond to our offers of beanie babies.

Our psychiatrist says the kids and their parents are depressed and suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome. We had the children do crayon drawings -- unbelievable what they remember: the massive wave, lifeless bodies.

I had brought my camera but really can't bear to photograph them because what is in front of me is so awesome, sad, and overwhelming. Indeed, at times I can't even muster my professional skills in the face of this.

Our nurses staff the hospital during the day to give the on-site nurses -- local and international -- a break. The Belgian nurse volunteers are real heroes, but they, too, look and act exhausted and defeated; they've been here as volunteers for weeks now, working without a break.

When we go back to Boston we'll begin to think how we can help to rebuild the medical center. We'll start with one small wing of the hospital for TB and pulmonary patients because rebuilding the pulmonary disease ward is a doable project with huge consequences for people's immediate and long-term health. And the Indonesian medical leadership gave this to us as their priority. They'll need an X-ray machine, TB equipment, beds, air conditioners, and a laboratory.

Most of all they'll need the aid the world promised them back in January before the spotlight of attention turned away.

Dr. Laurence Ronan is aboard the hospital ship USNS Mercy off Banda Aceh with a 42-person medical team from the Massachusetts General Hospital organized by Project Hope.

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