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Preparing for the Storm: Disaster Risk Reduction for 2015-2030

 

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By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer

At ChildFund, we have spent many hours helping children and families cope with the aftermath of wars, disasters and other traumatic events. For the past 25 years, we’ve raised funds specifically for emergency relief and often remain in affected communities for months or even years, helping people recover financially and emotionally.

Hand in glove with disaster recovery is preparation for future emergencies, such as earthquakes, typhoons and droughts. To help communities be prepared, ChildFund supports disaster risk reduction efforts in several countries, including Indonesia and the Philippines, which are prone to destructive storms.

In March, ChildFund Australia’s international program director, Mark McPeak, led ChildFund’s delegation to the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan, an internationally significant gathering. At the end of the meeting, world leaders from 187 countries signed the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, 2015-2030, which sets seven global targets for the next 15 years. They include lowering the number of people killed or harmed by disasters; reducing economic loss, damage to infrastructure and disruption of basic services; increasing the number of countries with disaster risk reduction strategies and enhancing international cooperation to implement these goals.

McPeak notes in this piece for Devex that these targets are admirable, but right now, they are nonbinding and unfunded, which leaves them less potent than they could be. However, the door has not closed on discussions about funding and requiring governments’ participation, with opportunities ahead in the United Nations’ other conferences this year: the Third International Conference on Financing for Development in July, the global U.N. summit in September and the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Paris in December.

ChildFund’s chief goal at Sendai was to get other participants to understand and recognize the value of child and youth participation in disaster recovery and preparation.

“Children and young people are normally seen as helpless, passive victims of disasters,” McPeak writes. “During and after emergencies, the mainstream media, even many organizations in our own international NGO sector, portray children and young people as needing protection and rescue. Of course, children and young people do need protection. When disasters strike, they need rescue and care. But what such images fail to show is that children also have the capacity — and the right — to participate, not only in preparing for disasters but in the recovery process.”

To make his point, McPeak presented information about youth who took part in disaster risk reduction efforts in 2011 in Iloilo and Zamboanga del Norte provinces in the Philippines, spreading awareness in eight communities. A year and a half later, this work paid off when Typhoon Haiyan struck just north of the area, and local governments were more prepared than in previous storms. More people in vulnerable areas were evacuated, and Child-Centered Spaces were up and ready to help children soon after the storm passed.

You can read more about ChildFund’s disaster risk reduction programs, including our work in Indonesia, Zambia and the Philippines

Scenes from Vanuatu

The Category 5 Cyclone Pam struck the South Pacific islands of Vanuatu on March 13, leaving many people homeless and destroying crops. ChildFund International and ChildFund Australia are raising funds to help families recover from the disaster, working with a local NGO, Live & Learn Vanuatu. Right now, the most urgent problem is a lack of clean water, but your donations are helping make a difference. Below, take a look at photos taken by Vlad Sokhin in Vanuatu last week, along with quotes from people affected by the cyclone.

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Photos: ChildFund/Vlad Sokhin/Panos Pictures.

Cyclone Pam: A Report from Vanuatu

10-year-old James in front of his destroyed school

 James, at what remains of his primary school in Vanuatu. ChildFund/Vlad Sokhin/Panos Pictures.

Reporting by Vlad Sokhin, freelance photographer for ChildFund Australia

A Category 5 cyclone struck the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu on March 13, leaving 75,000 people without shelter and affecting 166,000 people overall, according to latest estimates. ChildFund Australia is providing aid through its partner organization there, Live & Learn Vanuatu. You can help by making a donation to ChildFund’s Vanuatu Emergency Response Fund. Here are some notes from the field:

“I was in a community shelter with my parents,” says 10-year-old James from Efate Island. “When the strong wind came, it was very noisy. I was afraid. Then my sisters and I fell asleep. Next morning, we came to our house, and it was destroyed. My school was destroyed too. Now I sleep with my parents in the tent and can’t attend classes.”

James and his family are among the tens of thousands of people left homeless in Vanuatu after Cyclone Pam devastated the archipelago. The family of five is currently living in an improvised tent.

James’ mother, Margaret, says she is worried about feeding her children and generating an income since the family’s crops were wiped out by the cyclone.

“We’ve lost everything — all our crops,” she says. “All we can eat now is fallen bananas and coconuts. Some taro survived too, but it’s not enough for our family. I will not be able to sell fruits and vegetables in the market to make some money. We barely have enough food for ourselves.”

Some schools have reopened in Vanuatu, but with 50 percent of the country’s educational infrastructure destroyed or badly damaged, thousands of children remain unable to attend. At this stage, it is unclear when James will be able to start classes again.

Access to clean water is also an immediate concern for families like James’. Most water tanks have been damaged or destroyed by the cyclone, and wells are contaminated. Some people are forced to walk long distances to fetch or purchase fresh water, while others are so desperate that they are boiling seawater to drink.

James, his 14-year-old sister, Priscilla, and his 3-year-old sister, Ester, are at high risk of waterborne diseases such as cholera, which causes severe diarrhea and can lead to death. ChildFund Australia is working with Live & Learn Vanuatu to restore access to clean water to help ensure the health of children and their families in cyclone-ravaged areas.

To help with the continued response effort, please donate today to ChildFund’s Vanuatu Emergency Response Fund.

James and his family in their temporary shelterJames and his family at their destroyed home. ChildFund/Vlad Sokhin/Panos Pictures.

 

After Ebola, Liberian Children Returning to Communities

Reporting by Emmanuel Ford, ChildFund Liberia

In Liberia, the last known Ebola patient was discharged from a treatment center last week. We’re receiving updates on children who were at the ChildFund-supported Kelekula Interim Care Center, which served 55 children who lost caregivers in the outbreak, providing them a safe place to spend their 21-day quarantine period after exposure to the virus. Afterward, staff at the centers coordinated with government officials to help place children with relatives or in stable foster care situations.

Social workers now conduct regular visits to the homes of all children who stayed at the KICC to find out how they are coping with the loss of their loved ones and how they are getting along with their caregivers. ChildFund also distributes packages of clothes, mattresses, school materials, footwear, toiletries and food, such as rice and oil, to each child while reuniting them with their caregivers.

These four children have returned to their communities and are living with family members or other caregivers. All have lost family members to the deadly virus but are managing to move forward in their lives. Here are their stories:

Liberia_Jesse

Jesse, age 6

At the KICC, Jesse liked playing with friends. They rode the swing and the merry-go-round and played football in the compound. Jesse enjoyed the food they served each day. He has been reunited with family friends who live in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital. “I am happy with the people I am living with now,” Jesse says.

His mother and grandparents all died from Ebola, and Jesse was visibly grieving when he was first reunited with his family friends, although he is doing better now. He looks forward to returning to school soon. “For now, we actually need some supports like clothes and school fees,” Jesse’s caregiver explains.

Liberia_Lawrence

Lawrence, age 15

Lawrence (left, in photo above) has a disability that causes him to struggle with balance and to salivate uncontrollably, which caused hardships for him even before the Ebola outbreak, during which he lost his parents and siblings. After staying at the KICC for 21 days, he now lives with Pastor Amos Weah — a “prayer man” taking care of eight children — and hopes to become a preacher himself one day.

Happily living with the Pastor, he said he liked being at the KICC and would enjoy going back there, where he ate well and had fun with other children.

RS28728_Zinnah-lpr

Zinnah, age 6

Ebola claimed Zinnah’s parents and four siblings, and he’s being cared for by a teacher, Mr. Brown.

“We used to ride seesaw,” he says of the KICC, and he learned about preventing Ebola, how to read and other basic life skills. Both Zinnah and his guardian are looking forward to the reopening of his school, and in the meantime, he plays with friends and often takes a leading role in their activities.

RS28729_Jestina communicating with her father

Jestina, age 6

Jestina lost her mother and grandparents to Ebola, but her father survived. He sells cabbage to make a living, and they live in one of Monrovia’s slums. Jestina (pictured while talking with her father) liked living at the KICC, where she had the opportunity to play with other children and also learn, during bedtime stories, about preventing the virus. She is hopeful that one day she will be a banker. “I want to be a money girl,” she says.

Jestina loves to write and read, and she wants to see that all children are happy and free from dangerous illnesses like Ebola. Her father says that she seems happier lately and plays with her friends frequently.

In Guinea, Schools Reopen as Ebola Subsides

By Arthur Tokpah, ChildFund Guinea

After schools were closed for six months during the spread of the deadly Ebola virus, classes began again in Guinea on Jan. 19. Attendance was low the first day, but students seemed happy to see each other after the long quarantine.

After going through the process of hand washing at washing stations distributed by ChildFund and having their temperatures taken with non-contact thermometers, children greeted one another happily and expressed how much they had missed each other and their schools.

“This is my first day in school,” said Djenabou, age 14. “Ebola has done us wrong by keeping us out of school for six months. I was so scared when I used to come out to buy food. I thought everyone was going to die. But thank God that I am still alive and back to school again. I am very happy to meet my friends.”

While walking her 5-year-old daughter to school, Mrs. Diallo said, “Some parents are not ready to let their children come to school. Yesterday I was in the market, where I told some parents that schools have reopened. One of the ladies said that she was not yet ready to let her three children return to school unless people stop using non-contact thermometers at school. She mistakenly thinks this is a means of transmitting the virus to children.”

When you go around the areas where ChildFund works, you will notice practical measures have been put in place at schools and universities to protect teachers and students against Ebola and prevent its return. We have helped set up hand-washing stations and provided non-contact thermometers to 1,175 schools, reaching more than 500,000 students as of mid-February.

ChildFund Guinea is deeply engaged in the fight against Ebola and continues to provide training to local authorities, religious leaders, traditional healers and traditional birth attendants, all of whom are raising awareness about Ebola prevention measures in communities.

Below, take a look at a slideshow of images from Guinea’s schools.

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A Filipino Teacher Looks Back at His Sponsorship Experience

Larry, 22, is a teacher at a private high school in the Philippines and the president of a youth association in his community. He was sponsored through ChildFund and attended programs at a local partner organization, Community’s Hope and Initiative for Lasting Development Inc. (CHILD Inc.), in the Western Visayas. Children from this region face many challenges, including a high rate of malnutrition and many teens dropping out of school to work. Here is Larry’s story, in his own words.

 

Larry on his graduation day.

Larry on his graduation day.

My unforgettable journey with ChildFund, its local partner and my sponsor, Catherine, began 15 years ago.

In all of those years, Catherine never failed to support me every step of the way. Even though I haven’t met her, nor was she in the habit of writing, I always knew she had my back, because of her ceaseless support. I hope she’s proud of what I’ve made of myself so far.

Beyond my need to stay in school, ChildFund helped me discover what I wanted the most: I wanted to share my blessings with others. I didn’t have much in the way of material goods, but from what I learned from participating in ChildFund’s activities, I learned I could still share with others.

I remained involved in ChildFund’s programs until graduating from high school, and one of the later things they introduced to us was psychosocial support for children. The local partner, CHILD Inc., trains trainers who can look after the immediate emotional needs of children after an emergency.

I was chosen to join the first batch of trainers and soon found the opportunity to test what I learned when flash floods from Typhoon Washi (locally known as Sendong) claimed more than 1,000 lives and demolished entire communities in my province in 2011.

young Larry

Larry as a sponsored child.

There was no shortage of children in the dozens of evacuation centers that sprouted after the typhoon, and ChildFund called on us to assist them. My own home was not very badly affected by the typhoon, thankfully, so I was free to devote my efforts to helping other young people. The experience was tiring, but seeing the first smiles on children’s faces since the typhoon was rewarding. We produced artwork and helped the children express themselves about their experiences, along with their ambitions in life. It also saddened me to discover and share their pain, as they opened up their feelings to us.

ChildFund invited me to a lot of training seminars, which made me more aware of their plans for the community. These activities honed my skills and developed me into the person I am today. I joined an advocacy newsletter project and became editor-in-chief. This directly influenced my desire to pursue a teaching career.

ChildFund also sent me to national conferences, where I was able to meet fellow youth leaders from all over the Philippines. I discovered their cultures and traditions as I interacted with them. I was amazed how children and youth were able to articulate local issues and concerns, as well as assemble response plans.

Now that I’m employed and contributing to my family’s livelihood, I remain involved in ChildFund’s activities. I participate in the local partner’s Special Children Outreach for Rehabilitation (SCORe) program, and I volunteer with the sponsorship program.

My heart’s filled with gratitude for my kind and generous sponsor, Catherine, for her unceasing support, and for ChildFund, for molding me into what I am now.

Learning From the Fear and Misery of the Tsunami

Indian Ocean tsunami survivor

K. Rathnavel: “We are simple human beings, not gods. You might escape from the place of nature’s fury, but you cannot control it.”

To mark the 10th anniversary of the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, we asked our staff members in India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia to collect stories from survivors. 

By Saroj Kumar Pattnaik, ChildFund India

Bursts of rain and wind punctuate an otherwise pleasant day in India’s Nagapattinum district. The streets are quiet in the village of Sampathottam, and it’s time for lunch. The scent of a dry fish curry wafts through the air. Govindaraj, though, is impatient and waiting for the rain to stop.

“I don’t like this rain, like the way I hate the sea,” he says, visibly irritated. “Since the morning, I am waiting for this rain to stop. I will get the flowers from the market. Every year, I offer these flowers to my parents on their anniversary.” This isn’t a happy anniversary, though. It’s the 10th anniversary of his parents’ death and the Indian Ocean tsunami, which claimed 230,000 lives in South Asia.

Govindaraj lost his parents, his elder brother and 10 other members of his family in the 2004 tsunami that killed more than 7,000 people in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu alone. He dusts off the photographs of his lost relatives.

tsunami survivors

Govindaraj and Malakodi, their daughters and his cousin, Anita (center), who lost her parents.

“She is my mother, he is my father, and the other one is my elder brother,” he says, pointing to the pictures. “They were among the 13 of my family members who became prey to that devastating tsunami and left me alone to die, every day remembering them. Anita is also an unfortunate child like me.”

Thirteen-year-old Anita is Govindaraj’s cousin, who also lost her parents in the tsunami and is now being taken care of by Govindaraj and his wife Malakodi.

“I am lucky to have survived nature’s fury,” Govindaraj says. “Actually, I was at my uncle’s place where my wife and Anita were, when that killer tsunami hit our village. It destroyed everything, killed my entire family and that of Anita’s,” he says, turning his face toward the door to hide his tears.

Comforting him in her arms, Malakodi says,“It’s God’s decision. What can we do?

“We were fortunate enough that our village, Perumalpettai, is located a bit higher than the other villages. The tsunami water did come to our village but did not sweep us along. We survived. Only those who were near the shore at that time were killed or have gone missing,” she says.

When asked what she remembers about that day, Anita says, “I cannot recall anything about what happened on that day and how the tsunami was. The only thing I know is that it killed my parents and deprived me from the fortune of having parents. “

“I have only photographs of my parents. I miss them the most when people talk about them and about the tsunami,” she says, pointing at their pictures.

Indian Ocean tsunami survivor

Now 13, Amrith survived the tsunami.

Elsewhere in the village, Mahesh and her husband Ashoghan and son Amrith survived the tsunami, but they were forever touched by the trauma of the day. A pregnant Mahesh was slammed into walls by the waves, and later she and her husband were confronted with scores of dead bodies while searching for their 3-year-old son in a shelter. They found him in a corner, alive but unable or unwilling to speak.

“It was a horrible situation out there,” Ashoghan recalls. “We decided to move to another place, as the atmosphere was affecting both our body and soul, especially my son, who had not spoken a word since we found him. We crossed a backwater river stretch and moved out of the village and walked throughout the night to reach a nearby town.”

Amrith, now 13, is sponsored through ChildFund and attends school. After the tsunami, he was able to spend time in a Child-Centered Space to help recover from the trauma. But the family still suffers hardship. Amrith’s younger sister, Joyse, who was born a couple of months after the tsunami, has a nerve disorder that has prevented her from forming words or walking. She receives treatment for her condition, which is paid for by the government, her father says.

Near Govindaraj’s home, K. Rathnavel, a leader of this community, is busy preparing for a commemoration event for the victims of the tsunami.

In between phone calls to other community members, he says, “I want to build a memorial dedicated to the people who lost their lives in the tsunami. I have yet to raise the required funds for it.

“But I am sure we will soon be able to erect a memorial in our village,” he adds confidently.

When asked to tell his tsunami story, Rathnavel’s confidence disappears.

“Whenever I see the ocean, I get reminded of how it took away hundreds of our fellow villagers – men, women and children alike,” he says. Most who survived have become so scared of the sea that they have given up fishing, the ages-old occupation of the village, Rathnavel says.

A 2005 photo at a Child-Centered Space in India after the tsunami.

A 2005 photo at a Child-Centered Space in India.

“Most of us live in these houses allotted to us by the government as part of their rehabilitation plan for tsunami-affected people,” he adds. “Our old place has now turned into a ghost village.

“We are simple human beings, not gods. You might escape from the place of nature’s fury, but you cannot control it. Now, we don’t take a chance. If there is any alert from the authorities, we simple abide and stay away from the sea.”

According to K. Krishna Kumar of the AVVAI Village Welfare Society, ChildFund India’s local partner in Nagapattinam district, “The 2004 tsunami taught us that resilience is the key to recover from difficulties and to bounce back. People in this region have seen unprecedented devastation and lost numerable lives but are now moving on. That’s life, and we tell the affected communities to be strong and look forward.”

“Today, a decade later, the important question before us is how prepared we are for another such disaster,” he asks. “The disaster forced the development sector to focus on resilience in their programming efforts. As the largest NGO in this region, we played a coordinating role in the post-tsunami rehabilitation and reconstruction process in partnership with various funding agencies and governments,” he continues.

Part of ChildFund’s response to the disaster, carried out through local partners like AVVAI Village, was to build Child-Centered Spaces to help children recover from trauma in safe places. In this district, we and our partners also started a program to help people find other sources of income after losing their livelihoods.

“The tsunami should be remembered as a history of setbacks and tears,” Kumar says. “But the motivation to go forward must be harnessed.”

Helping Others Amid the Wave’s Destruction

Teuku Maimunsyah

Teuku Maimunsyah, or Popon, as he’s often called, was in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, during the 2004 tsunami.

By Teuku Maimunsyah, ChildFund Indonesia

Teuku Maimunsyah, or Popon, as he’s often called, shared his experience of the tsunami, when he lived in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, one of the hardest-hit regions. Today, he’s ChildFund Indonesia’s monitoring and evaluation specialist. These are his words. You can read more memories of the devastating 2004 tsunami on the blog and ChildFund’s website

It was early Sunday morning when the earthquake woke us up. The earth was swinging hard, right to left, up and down. Everyone ran out of the house. Soon enough, we heard thunderous noise and saw four-story-high campus buildings collapsing. Our house was in the campus housing area of IAIN Ar-Raniry, Banda Aceh.

We had experienced earthquakes before, but we had never seen buildings collapsing. My mom was crying. My friend, Mardan, who had stayed over with us that night, was saying, “This is the end of the world!” Everyone was panicked and hysterical. Then, the tremors stopped.

I was curious about the earthquake damage around the neighborhood. I took my car out but felt like I was hearing a voice saying, “Don’t take the car, take the motorbike.” I left the car parked in front of our house with the key inside. I drove down to town on the motorbike and heard the voice again, telling me to stop. I stopped and went to a small coffee shop in Ule Kareng.

Suddenly, many people were running toward the airport while screaming, “Banda Aceh is drowning!” I thought about home and tried to hurry back but could not pass on the road as there were so many people out. People were shouting, “Turn back, turn back!” From afar, we saw dark water. We couldn’t even see the sky anymore.

Some nights, when we got so tired, we slept among the dead.

I took another road and got into my housing area. I saw nothing but water. It was about one meter deep. I walked through it to find my house. Debris and dead bodies were all around. I didn’t see my family, my house or the car. Everything was gone. My mind went crazy: “Where are my parents, my brothers and sisters?”

I felt just blank, couldn’t believe what had just happened.

I decided to go back downtown to the city mosque, where the land is higher. The road was filled with people, and I saw more dead bodies everywhere. Then I saw my car at the mosque. I felt angry, thinking someone must have stolen my car, and because of that, my family didn’t make it. If I found that person, I will kill him, I thought. But then I saw my younger brother, Ponbit, by the car. I was so relieved to see him and all of my family. My family had thought I was dead. Ponbit told me that the car had saved them because it was parked outside with the key in it. When they heard people screaming, “Water, water!” they just got in the car and drove fast. It was just a matter of minutes that saved them from the water.

Dad asked if I had seen our house. I told him everything was gone. He was really calm and even smiled. My father told me, “Why are you feeling stressed out? If God’s willing, God will take what we have. Everything we have now is from God. Even when you die, you don’t bring anything with you.”

Still feeling stunned, I nodded but then asked, “Where do we sleep tonight?” He said, “Why did you ask such a question? Allah creates this earth for our shelter, so wherever we could close our eyes and feel comfortable there, that is our house. This earth is our home, even though on top of dirt.  So, don’t stress out. You better help people out there rather than just sit here feeling stressed.”

When the water had receded, I went back to see our house, which was left in ruins. Earthquake tremors still came every now and then, and people still shouted, “Water, water!” Even though there wasn’t water anymore, we ran.

Mardan also went back to his dorm. Nobody had survived. He had lost all of his friends. “If I hadn’t slept at your house that night, I might have been gone as well,” he said.

The river in the city, Krueng Aceh, was full of debris and dead bodies. The air felt sticky with the odors, everywhere. It was a devastating scene that you would never forget in your life.

The army soon came with big trucks to evacuate people. People from other cities like Aceh Besar and Takengon also came, bringing vegetables and fruits. I helped to remove dead bodies. I had never experienced something as heart-wrenching as this. At first, I was shaking when I found the dead bodies, but then, bodies after bodies after bodies, I slowly overcame the feeling. I learned some lessons, too. I saw one body with many clothes on, and that his pockets were full of money and gold. Perhaps he thought to save his belongings first, but sadly, he couldn’t make it.  We collected all of the money and gold we found and gave it to the mosque.

In a day, we would remove about 100 dead bodies.  Some nights, when we got so tired, we slept among the dead.

Popon receives an award from Indonesia's government for his volunteer work following the tsunami.

Popon receives an award from Indonesia’s government for his volunteer work following the tsunami.

Volunteers also started to come in, and some were students from Medan. Many of them went back home again on the first day as they could not handle the situation. Some cried and threw up.

One night, we heard a woman wailing hysterically. A young man came over and checked on her. She said she had lost her husband and her children. The young man asked if she had other relatives, and she said yes. That man said she was lucky to still have some of her relatives, as he didn’t have anyone left. That man had lost all of his relatives, from his grandparents to his own family and others. It turned out they lived in one of the hardest-hit areas, Ulee Lhue. The whole village had been taken by the wave.

You would hear many heartbreaking stories. Many were so unimaginable. And we saw many children alone, without anyone with them. Some could say one or two things about their family, and some just couldn’t remember anything. At that time, reporters and media organizations had come to the city. I joined them, and we developed a system to register children. We took their pictures and put out their information in the media and at evacuation shelters. It helped people to find their children.

During  such a massive loss, when you see people reunited, it warms your heart and lifts your spirit to think less about yourself and help people more.

 

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

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