ChildFund International Blog

For Banda Aceh Natives, Tsunami Trauma Lingers

Ayusnita

Ayusnita Pane, a ChildFund Indonesia staff member, was a student in Banda Aceh when the tsunami struck in 2004.

By Ayusnita Pane, ChildFund Indonesia

Ayusnita, who works for ChildFund Indonesia as a human resources officer, shared her experiences from the 2004 tsunami, when she was a college student in Banda Aceh, one of the hardest-hit regions. You can read more about the tsunami on our blog and ChildFund’s website.  

I was in my last semester at the University of Syiah Kuala in Banda Aceh, where I lived in a student dorm on the third floor. That Sunday morning, Dec. 26, 2004, I was watching television when the earthquake happened. Earthquakes were quite common in Aceh, but that one was shaking tremendously. Everyone rushed out of the building. Then we saw many birds flying above us. I didn’t know what kind of birds they were; it was like a death bird, so I thought, this is it, the end of the world.

To my confusion, I saw people were running and screaming “Water, water!” I didn’t really know what was happening, but I followed everyone. I looked back and saw everything was dark; it was like black water. I ran faster than I normally did, even though I was wearing a sarong. I tried to stop people in cars too, but no one stopped. Everyone thought to save themselves first.

I kept running and following people to the campus mosque. I thought if I die, I’ll die in a mosque. Everyone was panicked and screaming. Cars and motorbikes were lurching and honking. I made it to the mosque and went up to the second floor. But the tremors hadn’t stopped, so we kept coming downstairs and back up again every time people shouted “Water, water!” Soon, people were screaming, “Dead body, dead body!” At the time, I still didn’t understand how huge a disaster this was. Suddenly, many people were carrying dead bodies covered in mud, their clothes torn apart. It happened so fast.

Ten years later, I actually still don’t want to see anything relating to the tragedy. I just can’t watch it. I feel a little upset. Why do we have to keep remembering it? I didn’t lose my family, but only a close friend. I cannot imagine if I lost my own family. I don’t know how to tell my feelings. It’s unspeakable. Sometimes I wonder why I was so traumatized. I didn’t drown. I didn’t lose my family, but I just cannot help thinking about people who were affected.

After the flood, we were taken by car to the airport. I had a few bucks and my mobile phone with me, but there was nothing to buy and no cellular networks were on. No stores were open, because they were afraid of looting. One friend of mine sold her jewelry to get a plane ticket, but there were no flights. We just waited at the evacuation camp at the airport. At night, we slept on the road, because we were afraid of the airport would collapse from the earthquake. Soldiers came, providing us with water, rice and noodles.

Some of our male friends came back to the dorm to get some clothes, but everything was gone. In that very short time, during such a tragedy, people had looted our belongings. Some said people came from Medan in a truck to loot everything with many dead bodies still lying downstairs.

I stayed in the airport until Monday night, when my friend was picked up by her brother. I went out with them and back to my parents in Medan.

I thought, this is it, the end of the world.

One day, I got hysterical seeing the news on television. Another day, I just cried and screamed. I had nightmares too and didn’t go out for about three months. My family got me a preacher and prayed for me to release all the bad influences. None of us were aware that this was happening because of the trauma.

Three months after the tsunami, I went back to Aceh to finish my studies. I went to see the dorm; the campus areas were badly damaged. I didn’t see dead bodies anymore, but we still could smell something. It was really devastating for everyone.

After the tsunami, the cost of living had gone up crazily, including for renting a room or a house. So, I stayed in the evacuation shelter for about six months, moved from one to another when it became more packed with people. I took a job with a French nongovernmental organization while finishing my studies and finally found a rental house for a decent price and stayed there with a friend to share the costs.

All of my friends from the dorm were safe. But I lost five friends who didn’t live at the dorm; one of them was really close. She was in her house with her family that day and was swept away by the water. I know some people reunited years after the tsunami. Sometimes I hoped I could see her again. Her younger brother told me she didn’t survive. He is the only one from his family who survived because he wasn’t at home then. I have lost my hope. Two or three times, I chased someone who I thought looked like her. I called out her name, Amel, but when they turned around, I realized they weren’t her.

I stayed in Banda Aceh until 2010 but just had the courage to look for my friend’s house this February, in 2014. It was really heartbreaking and difficult for me. The area was totally destroyed, but I remembered there was a cellular tower near her house. She used to climb on it to play around. That tower was the only thing left there.

Something stays with me until today. At the campus mosque, I saw a little boy in front of me, about 7 or 8 years old, who was bleeding from a bad cut. He was crying, but I didn’t ask him anything. I was so confused about what was happening and overwhelmed by seeing so many dead people. I am thinking now maybe I was too selfish at that time for only thinking about myself. Even now, I still have his face in my mind.

I didn’t really know what a tsunami was until it happened in Aceh. Now, when we have an earthquake, I always wonder if there will be a tsunami or not, and where to go. In Banda Aceh, we see many evacuation route signs now, and the infrastructures have also been developed better.

Ayusnita has lived in Jakarta with her family since 2010 and joined ChildFund as a human resources officer in October 2014.

 

I Ask the Sea, “What Did I Do Wrong?”

This week, we are marking the 10th anniversary of the Dec. 26, 2004, earthquake and tsunami, which devastated towns and villages in 14 Asian countries and claimed more than 230,000 lives. ChildFund works in India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia, which were all hit hard by the disaster. Saroj Pattnaik of ChildFund’s national office in India asked several people who live in coastal regions devastated by the tsunami to share their memories of that day. You can read more about the tsunami this week on our blog and here on the ChildFund website.

K Rathnavel

“That was a Saturday morning, and we had just returned home after a daylong fishing trip. I was inside the bathroom when the tsunami struck our village. It was like the entire stretch of sea came rushing towards us. We all ran for safety, holding each other’s hands, and found ourselves on a building that had been pushed up by the water. Suddenly, we realized that our younger son was missing. We searched all over, crossing through heaps of dead bodies, uprooted trees, broken boat parts and debris. Thoughts of his being no more had started killing us from inside. Five days passed, but we never stopped our search. And finally my wife found our son in a rescue center in another village. We were relieved. But other parents were not so lucky — their grief of missing their loved ones still continues.” — K. Rathnavel, 41

 

Govindaraj 1

“I hate the word ‘tsunami.’ For the past 10 years, I have been going to the sea every day and talking to it. I ask the sea, ‘What did I do wrong? Why have you eliminated my entire family – just because I never liked to stay alone? Were you jealous of me just because I was the most loved and privileged one? You killed 13 of my family members and must be thinking that I am afraid of you. No. Actually, I hate you!’ ” — Govindaraj, 30

 

Divya, 21

“It was terrifying, and I ­struggled to get our door open. While the water was gushing into our home, the door was pressed from outside by a wooden log. Suddenly, I realized my feet were not on the ground. I was floating. I forced myself out through the broken window. There was water everywhere, and it was perhaps going back to sea again. I still remember the power of the water. You couldn’t hold yourself in one place. It was taking you where it wanted. I managed to cling to a concrete house. When the water receded, my mother and brother returned home from another building while my father returned after searching for us. But we could not find our younger sister, who had been playing outside with her friends.” — Divya, 21

 

 A Mahesh

“When I hear the word ‘tsunami,’ dreadful pictures of the huge dark wave and the trail of devastation play in front of my eyes, and I start feeling the pain anew. It did not kill any of our family members, but it gave us lifelong suffering instead. I was very pregnant and was eager to welcome the new family member. But the tsunami water washed away our happiness. The strong current of the water swept me along and slammed me with some hard object. It was painful, but I managed to cling to a building wall and survived. Three months passed by, but there was no sign of any labor. Doctors advised me to go for an emergency C-section. I obliged, and my daughter Joyse was born. The joy of her birth, however, was cut short when we learned she was suffering from cerebral palsy, which left her dependent on others and suffering for her whole life. Watching her suffer kills us every day.” — A. Mahesh, 31, pictured with Joyse, 9.

 

Anitha

“I cannot recall anything that happened on that day and what the tsunami was like. But from what I have heard so far, I visualize a dark, huge wave that came rushing toward our village and devastated hundreds of families, including mine. I am told that my parents were killed in that disaster and I was left to be cared for by my aunt. I have only photographs of my parents. I miss them the most when people talk about them and about the tsunami.” — Anitha, 14

The Tsunami and the Years Since

This week, we are marking the 10th anniversary of the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. The disaster killed approximately 230,000 people in 14 countries on Dec. 26, 2004. At the time, ChildFund had programs in Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka, which all suffered massive losses. This month, the ChildFund Sri Lanka staff asked people to recall their experiences in the tsunami and the years since, and we included their pictures and quotes in this slideshow. In coming days, we’ll have more stories and pictures from Indonesia and India. You can also watch a 2005 video from Sri Lanka.

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A Report from the World Congress on Children’s Rights

ChildFund Mexico teens

Five teens enrolled in ChildFund Mexico’s programs in Puebla attended the world congress last month.

Reporting from ChildFund Mexico

Last month, the city of Puebla, Mexico, hosted the Sixth World Congress on the Rights of Children and Adolescents, a complex event focusing on child protection, freedom from violence, environmental problems and educational opportunities. Three young men from the Huehuetla area and two young women from Caxhuacan who are enrolled in ChildFund’s programs in Puebla attended the conference, along with ChildFund Mexico representatives.

The three-day program focused on these issues: the right to live free from violence, the Internet as a human right, child migration and the right to family life. The conference, which met for the first time outside of Geneva, Switzerland, coincided with the 25th anniversary of the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child.

mural at world congress

Participants created artwork during the congress during a visit to a local museum.

Mexican officials, including the national director of the Family Development Agency, Laura Vargas Carrillo, and Puebla’s governor, joined Kirsten Sandberg, president of the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child.

“We have a date with history, but above all with future generations, thinking tall, looking far and acting soon,” said Puebla Gov. Rafael Moreno Valle at the opening of the conference.

Teens attended workshops and discussions, and they shared some of their thoughts with ChildFund in writing.

An excerpt from 16-year-old Guadalupe’s journal:

“One of the activities in which I participated was about violence, which we debated and discussed, bringing up things we have done and experienced.

“Then a rapper told us how rap shouldn’t be associated with crime but used as a means of expression. We visited the Atoyac River outside Puebla, and we heard the story about Atoyac and its creation and pollution. We learned about the percentage of salt water and fresh water and how much water they use to make clothing. It made us think about how we waste water in unnecessary ways.”

protest at world congress

Teens hold signs during a protest rally.

All the participants were affected by an unexpected event, when a woman was ejected from the congress. She was the mother of a 13-year-old boy who was killed in July when a rubber bullet fired by a Puebla police officer hit him in the head during a protest gathering. The case has been heavily covered in the Mexican news, and when the woman was removed from the meeting, some delegations walked out in protest.

“When I arrived at the meeting, some adolescents had started a rally with banners on stage, due to the case,” wrote Ricardo Calleja Calderon, who served as a chaperone for the ChildFund youths. He added that the teens involved in the rally were respectful but also pressed authorities for answers and for mutual respect.

“This conference was very useful for the young people,” Ricardo wrote, “primarily to strengthen their spirit of cooperation.” It is still challenging for teens to express their feelings, and more work is needed to encourage dialogue and good decisions based on their knowledge of their rights, he added.

“We want to do more for children and teens,” Guadalupe concluded, “because if we know our rights, the injustices in Mexico will stop.”

Helping Sweetie Sweetie and Other Children

You may have seen a New York Times article this week about a 4-year-old girl called Sweetie Sweetie who is staying at one of ChildFund’s Interim Care Centers in Sierra Leone. She lost her parents to Ebola, like thousands of children in West Africa. Sweetie Sweetie, whose given name we don’t know, has remained healthy and not shown signs of the disease. Here, you can read an update on her condition and learn how to help other children orphaned by Ebola.

Sierra Leone Ebola relief

Sierra Leone has the most cases of Ebola in the world, according to recent news reports.

Think Flat When It Comes to Sending Gifts

A little reminder since Christmas is coming, and many of our sponsors want to give something special to the children they sponsor. For more tips about corresponding with your sponsored child, check this out.

Want to include something special for your sponsored child? Think flat.
Children cherish the little gifts and fun extras you add to your letters, but bulky objects cause difficulties and create problems with customs officials. Make sure that anything you include is flat, lightweight and not easily broken. Avoid items that can melt.

Trifonia Timor-Leste

Trifonia, 10, of Timor-Leste, received this card from her sponsors.

“Envelope add-ins” include:

  • family photographs
  • drawings
  • hair ribbon or embroidery thread
  • stickers
  • paper dolls
  • postcards
  • poems or stories
  • coloring book pages
  • birthday cards
  • origami paper
  • stationary
  • preprinted pages for children to fill out

To minimize the possibility that mail will be lost or stolen, make it appear to have less worth to those who may be interested in its contents. Never include anything of value, use plain manila or white envelopes, and keep external writing nondescript.

We ask sponsors not to send packages to their sponsored children.

Packages are frequently stolen, or they can be charged a prohibitive duty tax. If you would like to give a gift for Christmas, birthdays, or other occasions, we recommend gifts between $20 and $50. ChildFund requests a $3.50 donation when sending monetary gifts to help offset the costs associated with processing, distributing and safely delivering the funds. If you would like our assistance with giving your sponsored child a monetary gift, please call us at 1-800-776-6767. Our representatives will be happy to assist you.

A Sponsor’s Visit to La Paz, Bolivia

sponsor visit to Bolivia

Isabel (left), whose family sponsors five children through ChildFund Deutschland, visited Neri and her mother in Bolivia recently. Here, they visit the cable car station in La Paz, called Mi Teleferico.

By Abraham Marca, ChildFund Bolivia

ChildFund’s office in Bolivia recently hosted the daughter of a sponsor, who got to meet 2-year-old Neri and her parents.

Isabel, 18, is Spanish but lives in Germany; her mother, Luisa, has sponsored Neri since July through ChildFund Deutschland, one of our Alliance partners. They sponsor five children in all, one for each member of the family. Luisa needed to stay home to care for her younger son, so Isabel went in her place to Bolivia.

“With these pictures, my mom is going to be jealous of me,” Isabel said. “She really wanted to come here.”

Neri will become a big sister in January, when her mother is expecting her second child. Her father is a truck driver, and the family lives in La Paz, one of Bolivia’s largest cities. During Isabel’s visit, they went to see Mi Teleférico, a new cable-car system, which was very exciting for Neri. It was a sunny day, and the independent little girl was happy to walk by herself.

“Neri’s dream has come true,” her mother said. “She has wanted to get in the Teleférico for months.” Then they went to a children’s park, where Neri ran and played with Isabel and her mother.

“Neri reminds me of my younger brother,” Isabel said. “She has a lot of energy and independence, and it seems she never gets tired!”

Earlier in the trip, Isabel also visited an Early Childhood Development center supported by ChildFund and run by a local partner organization, San José Las Lomas. She had the opportunity to talk to the coordinators and meet children there, and she expressed a lot of interest in their work.

When the sun was going down, the group returned to the neighborhood where Neri’s family lives, again riding Mi Teleférico and enjoying the city’s sights one last time. “This is like her Christmas gift,” Neri’s mother declared. Below, see more pictures from Isabel’s visit, including a trip to the local ECD center. If you’re a sponsor and wish to visit your child in his or her country, call our Sponsor Care team at 1-800-776-6767, between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. (ET), Monday through Thursday and 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Friday.

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A Message From the Center of the Ebola Outbreak

Interview by Arthur Tokpah, ChildFund Guinea

Davidson Jonah, ChildFund’s field operations support director, is engaged in the challenging work of supporting our Ebola response, including opening Liberia’s Interim Care Center for children affected by the disease. He took a few minutes to talk with us during a recent field visit to Guinea and gave us an update on what is happening now.

Davidson Jonah, ChildFund's field operations support director, who is working in West Africa.

Davidson Jonah, ChildFund’s field operations support director, who is working in West Africa.

You have now been involved with the Ebola emergency for months now. What helps you keep going?

Ebola is a much different kind of emergency response than I have ever been involved in. The situation is very hectic; you see things happen, and you are motivated to help save lives. I also admire the courage of the national staff. Like I said, it is a different emergency, and therefore, you don’t have lot of people coming in [to participate in the response] out of fear. So, those who are living with it are the people on the ground, the national office staff. As a native of West Africa, I should be there to support them and help to bring in as many resources as possible.

What have you observed in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia in terms of community members’ acceptance of the fact that Ebola is a real disease?

The level of acceptance is not the same in all three countries. I see it going up in Guinea, though not up where it should be. [People must accept] not only that this is a disease and it kills, but also other information about how it spreads, such as contact with sick persons, handling corpses, etc., so that there would be a better environment through the outbreak and afterward. If you look at the issue of stigmatization, it is an issue of lack of acceptance and knowledge about the virus.

Do you think Ebola will be eradicated?

Yes, I am hopeful. For it to be effectively eradicated, we have to have a coordinated approach because of the way in which these countries border each other. So, even if Ebola gets eradicated in Guinea, if somebody from Sierra Leone who is infected comes over, because of the mode of transmission, there might be an issue here. Same with Sierra Leone and Liberia. One country cannot say yes, we have done it, if the other countries are still having the problem.

What messages have you gotten from children and communities?

Well, from the community, the message is that they want to do more, but they don’t have the resources and the means. They are aware of the situation, and they know that they need to get more people to understand — especially the community leaders, so we need more sensitization and awareness raising. For the children, they want to go to school.

Ebola prevention efforts

Raising awareness and providing resources to keep hygiene standards high are part of ChildFund’s work to prevent the spread of Ebola.

What Ebola eradication strategies are the most significant in the three countries?

Sensitization and awareness raising are key. First, every household in all three countries has to be sensitized about this disease, and they have to get the same correct message. That is the only means. They can take care of those who are sick, and they can allow or co-operate on safe burial for those who are dead already, but the message needs to get down to the community.

For example, people from West Africa want to take care of and wash their dead, and that is a key way Ebola spreads. Our way of meeting and talking, greeting, showing friendship and love is through handshakes and hugging. That is another key way that Ebola can be transmitted.

So, until and unless people get the message, it is going to be difficult to eradicate Ebola. That is the key message, awareness about the mode of transmission, to break the chain, should be the strategy that all countries should adopt.


What is working well in the three countries, and what are some upcoming challenges and goals?

The issue of community sensitization and awareness is moving well. That is the great step that has been taken, but it needs to be strengthened and the correct messages circulated in all languages by community leaders. The next step is for that message to be transmitted down to every household. That’s where we should push. Because now that the community leaders are aware, we need to support them in taking the message to their people. They are the people who can do it best; they are the ones who can pass on the message because it is all about trust.

We heard in one or two meetings that people do not trust the health system; they don’t have confidence in this or that, so to build that confidence, you need to have their own people seen doing the actions, and then they learn by example. Yesterday, we went to the Ebola committee meeting, and when we washed our hands, a little girl also came and washed her hands. That is what needs to done.

What message do you have for the ChildFund staff in West Africa?

My message for them is to do what they are asking others to do. So, if we are asking community leaders to sensitize their people about Ebola, we should also take it upon ourselves to sensitize those around us. It seems small, but it will go a long way.

 

Typhoon Hagupit Makes Landfall in the Philippines

Child-Centered Spaces in Philippines

After last year’s devastating Typhoon Haiyan, ChildFund was the first to deploy pre-positioned Child-Centered Spaces to help children cope with the trauma.

Just over a year after Super Typhoon Haiyan devastated the central Philippines, Typhoon Hagupit, locally known as “Ruby,” roared slowly across that country, including some areas still recovering from Haiyan.

After Hagupit’s erratic pattern of development from tropical storm to Super Typhoon to “strong typhoon,” leaving millions shaken and fearful, Hagupit made landfall as a Category 3 hurricane on Saturday evening, tracking across Samar and just north of Tacloban City, the area hardest hit by Haiyan.

Fortunately, Hagupit has turned out to be not nearly as powerful as last year’s deadly Haiyan. Still, the slow-moving storm brought torrential rains, and flashfloods and landslides are concerns. The storm is curving northwest, toward Manila, and will pass south of the capital on Monday night.

Meanwhile, ChildFund is participating in coordinated response and needs-assessment planning with the government and other NGOs. We also are coordinating closely with our local partner organizations in potentially affected areas; before the storm, all reported that they were ready, with Child-Centered Space kits pre-positioned to provide children with psychosocial and other support. Emergency response teams have pre-positioned supplies, including emergency kits and tents.

As of right now, our easternmost local partner is gathering information about the community it serves and will conduct rapid assessments this week. We are still waiting to hear from our other four local partners in Hagupit’s path, but the weakening of the storm as it passes over land is reason for hope. We’ll provide more updates as we receive them.

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