UMCOR Departs Indonesia
By Linda Unger*
July 26, 2011—Six years and thousands of beneficiaries later, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) has completed its mission and closed its doors in Indonesia—not before ensuring that once traumatized communities had rediscovered their capacity to be agents of their own development.
“UMCOR did an incredible job of staying around after most other [international] organizations had left, after the emergency money was spent, after the reconstruction was finished,” said John Holveck, former head of mission of UMCOR Indonesia.
We stayed and worked with the people to create a strategy that basically looked at how to transition from the emergency and reconstruction phases to longer-term, sustainable development through capacity building and community-driven development,” Holveck said.
UMCOR established a field office in Aceh province, located on the island of Sumatra, just months after a 9.2-magnitude earthquake and powerful tsunami not only decimated that area but provoked varying levels of destruction in 11 countries around the Indian Ocean on December 26, 2004.
In all, 217,000 people died in the event. Most of them—150,000—died in Indonesia in the tsunamis that struck Aceh province only 30 minutes after the quake. The waves destroyed 127,000 homes in the province, as well as 1,488 schools, 2 hospitals, and 26 health posts.
Abu, a survivor, recalled how he could only watch as the towering tsunami came toward him. Caught in the murky water, he was unable to swim amid the debris that lumbered toward him. The massive waves crushed his house and killed his four sons and their families, leaving him and his wife alone.
The couple slept in a tree for three months, afraid another tsunami would overtake them. Finally, they came down from the tree and built a rudimentary shelter on their property, as a nearby temporary barracks was too full to accommodate them.
In time, Abu and his wife were blessed with a new home, one of hundreds built by UMCOR Indonesia.
Relief, Recovery, and Development
The construction of both temporary shelters and permanent homes was but one aspect of a range of relief, recovery, and transitional development programs UMCOR implemented in Aceh province from April 2005 through March 2011.
UMCOR also built and equipped schools and community centers; constructed or rehabilitated roads, bridges, irrigation channels, and water and sanitation facilities in schools and hospitals; and also built cooperative facilities and a market.
The organization provided food relief, basic nutrition packages, and medicines to survivors of the 2004 tsunami, a 2006 earthquake, and flooding in 2008.
Because Indonesia is located on what is known as the Pacific Rim of Fire, an area particularly vulnerable to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, UMCOR provided emergency-response and disaster-risk-reduction training to its own national staff and scores of other beneficiaries.
But the backbone of UMCOR’s work in Indonesia from the start and throughout the organization’s presence there was capacity building—that is, providing local communities with tools that to empower them to carry on, even to flourish, without UMCOR.
This was accomplished through business-skills training, the provision of income-generation packages, revolving or social loans, health and hygiene programs based on behavior-change communication, and the creation of and support for community development committees (CDC).
In total, over the course of the six years of its presence in Indonesia, UMCOR directly served more than 144,600 individuals and 790 families, and reached indirectly another 400,000 people.
The field office implemented 14 grant-funded programs, at a total value of nearly $22 million. Most of that sum came through the emergency Advance established immediately following the disaster and was donated by generous United Methodists and others of good will.
American Baptist Churches, American Red Cross, CARE International, and UNICEF made up the difference, partnering with UMCOR in Indonesia to bring the programs to fruition.
Total contributions to UMCOR’s regional response to the Indian Ocean tsunami, which in addition to Indonesia also covered Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, and Somalia, surpassed $44 million.
Resources for the long haul
We had a lot of funding and met a lot of initial needs, but we wanted to be strategic about our resources so that we could work long term in Indonesia,” said Thomas Dwyer, executive director of UMCOR’s field offices, currently in eight countries.
UMCOR’s strategy was to allocate funds for the emergency response, recovery, and reconstruction phases, and to reserve some funds for later years to support transitional development programs aimed at sustaining livelihoods and solidifying communities.
It proved to be “extremely significant and vital, as very few agencies in Indonesia were able to have valuable resources at their disposal for all phases of response, recovery, and reconstruction post-tsunami as did UMCOR,” wrote Program Officer Amber Kubera in a final report.
“This is a strategy we are also employing in Haiti,” Dwyer indicated, “with the hope of similar long-term impact.”
Having resources available over the long term allowed UMCOR Indonesia to move along a continuum from relief to development and establish as pilot projects a replicable community-driven development program.
“This was something new,” John Holveck said. “We ran the program in two villages in each of two districts. We created community development committees, and then helped them build their capacity in things like proposal writing, evaluating contractors, and financial and administrative capability.”
The villagers themselves evaluated and determined the kinds of projects they needed—from infrastructure, such as the building of an access road, to the making and marketing of handicrafts by a women’s cooperative. UMCOR supported their decisions with professional criteria and guidance, and helped them create or revitalize four successful cooperatives.
“I think that this is a legacy that UMCOR can leave behind in Indonesia…,” Holveck said. “I’m really glad that UMCOR placed a priority on this capacity development for Indonesians, and specifically for the Acehenese, after the horrible disaster that occurred here ….”
Underscoring the significance of capacity building for the future of the communities, he said, “Roads and buildings can sometimes break down, but the skills that we leave behind in Aceh can last for generations.”