UMCOR Builds Hope After Tsunami
By Katie Henneman, Program Coordinator, UMCOR Indonesia
Banda Aceh, February 14, 2008– Abu described how the wave came towards him like a mountain, and how he unsuccessfully tried to warn other people to run. He was caught in the water, unable to swim amidst the debris swirling around him, like being in a giant mixer. The tsunami took not only his house, he said, but also his four sons and his grandchildren, leaving him and his wife alone. They slept in a tree for three months, afraid of another tsunami, before they built a small rudimentary shelter on their property in Cadek village, Aceh Besar District. The temporary barracks nearby were too full to accommodate them. But it was not until he spoke of the new house built for him by the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) that Abu became emotional, his eyes filling with tears. “I am happy to have UMCOR guests visiting so my wife and I can have a full home again,” said Abu of Sam Dixon’s visit to his home. Dixon is UMCOR’s top executive.
Dixon’s recent visit to Aceh Province, Indonesia to see the reconstruction work accomplished by UMCOR in the three years since the devastating earthquake and tsunami was full of poignant moments like the one with Abu. The stories told by the people of Aceh were often filled with destruction, but it was their hope for the future and their ability to overcome adversity that was most memorable. "The pain of the tragic loss of life and property is apparent in everyone's eyes," says Sam Dixon. "While lives and livelihoods are being rebuilt, there is an underlying tension that will take years to go away. More than most, the people of Banda Aceh understand the fleeting nature of life. In this context, UMCOR is committed to helping the people of Indonesia affected by the tsunami return to as normal a life as possible. Working in concert with the victims, we are proud of the positive changes taking place."
In a community meeting in Mireuk Lam Reudeup village, Aceh Besar District, Dixon learned how UMCOR beneficiaries were developing new business skills after the tsunami. One woman, who plans to set up a small pharmacy in her village, talked about the importance of keeping household finances and business finances separate. Another man spoke about how he was encouraged to sell his products outside his own village to increase sales.
Four-day “Start Your Business” trainings provided by UMCOR fostered this knowledge in the village as well as the ability to develop basic business plans. Building on these trainings, UMCOR will soon distribute income generation packages to approximately 45 families in the village. In a community where all houses were destroyed along with nearly all businesses and livestock, such packages include all the materials needed to re-start or improve small businesses. Selected by each beneficiary, the packages are instrumental for families trying to regain incomes and return to normal lives.
Visits with schoolchildren emphasized that life in Aceh really has gone on after the tsunami. At Sekolah Dasar Negeri 3 (SDN3), which UMCOR finished reconstructing in June 2007, children were proud to share their cultural traditions with Dixon and other UMCOR guests. They performed Acehnese dancing as well as traditional Acehnese music on instruments donated by UMCOR. The desks, chairs, office equipment, playground and educational equipment and other materials needed to fully equip and improve the educational environment at the new school were also donated.
With over 450 students, this bright yellow, two-story primary school is one of the largest in the city of Banda Aceh, and the children broke into big smiles, their faces shining with pride, as Dixon toured the new facilities. Dixon also visited a pre-school built by UMCOR in Mon Ikeun village, Aceh Besar District, a village close to the sea that was decimated by the tsunami waves.
The children at the preschool, perhaps too young to fully remember that fateful day, greeted visitors with songs and laughter. The vividly-painted school, with slides and see-saws in the yard, and the new houses visible in every direction, made it even more difficult to imagine the destruction that occurred in this community.
The people of Aceh have overcome a great tragedy, and numerous international organizations as well as the Indonesian government have helped them to do so by providing significant donations and actively participating in the reconstruction process. Much work remains to be done in Aceh, but Abu, his wife and other UMCOR beneficiaries are looking ahead to the future rather than focusing on the devastation of the past.
UMCOR’s Work in Indonesia
UMCOR established its first field office in Aceh in May 2005. Since then, UMCOR Indonesia has reconstructed and rehabilitated nearly 700 houses, rehabilitated two water treatment plants that serve approximately 3,000 households, provided business skills trainings to nearly 1,000 beneficiaries, distributed over $450,000 in income generation packages, reconstructed schools and provided other education assistance to over 10,000 students and teachers, as well as other reconstruction and community development work. As the reconstruction of physical assets is completed, UMCOR’s project work in Aceh Province has begun to focus more on improving health through better water, sanitation and hygiene as well as increasing technical skills and building sustainable livelihoods.