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.
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.
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.
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.
“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
“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
“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
“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.
“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
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.
Martin Nañawa of ChildFund Philippines has been traveling through the Visayas, the region most severely affected a year ago by Super Typhoon Haiyan, recording its current status. Despite dramatic loss of life and property last November, communities are rebounding, with businesses and homes having been rebuilt over the past several months. Here, you can see how your gifts, along with the elbow grease of residents and ChildFund’s local partners, have made a difference in Tacloban. Martin notes: “You may have noticed the signage says ‘Tindog Negosyo.’ Tindog is the verb for standing up, or getting to your feet, and Negosyo stands for business.”
Read more about the binagol makers here.
By Martin Nañawa, ChildFund Philippines
Before the typhoon, women in Miriam’s village would gather in a common space at the edge of their row of houses and take turns making batches of binagol, a staple dessert in Leyte, an island in the central Philippines.
Although there’s not a perfect comparison in Western cuisine, binagol is a little like tapioca pudding and also tastes similar to sticky rice cakes found throughout Southeast Asia. It is made with talyan roots, similar to taro, instead of rice.
There’s a smaller version of this sweet served in the northern Philippines, called “kulangot” (boogers). There’s also a variant made from rice, which is called “moron.” We have such glamorous names for local delicacies.
The women chop the talyan roots and cook them with coconut milk, condensed milk, eggs and sugar inside coconut husks with banana leaves layered on top. Everything is then wrapped in banana leaves and knotted with straw into a bun. This packaging makes binagol easily portable, and in Leyte, you’ll find it at markets, corner stores, canteens and even transit terminals. Miriam and the women of her village made enough binagol to drop off at nearby markets and make a small profit for themselves.
But when Super Typhoon Haiyan struck the region Nov. 8, 2013, everything changed for millions of Filipinos. The storm, one of the worst in the area’s history, claimed 6,300 lives and destroyed half a million homes in the central Philippines.
Scarcity of food was a primary challenge, and many villagers also had to repair or rebuild their homes. Selling binagol was not an option for Miriam and her neighbors, at least for the foreseeable future. This was especially difficult for her, as her husband’s earnings as a farmhand were never enough even before the typhoon.
But after immediate needs like food, shelter and clean water were filled, ChildFund and our local partner organizations started helping people reclaim their livelihoods — including the binagol-makers, who received assistance in July. This is all part of ChildFund’s response after disasters.
Miriam felt hope for the first time since the typhoon. She was not sure what to expect from ChildFund staff when they first came, but the workshop held right at her village helped her understand that we were there to help. Still, she and the other mothers would have to work hard to restore their livelihood, but improve it as well.
Miriam received a complete set of utensils for binagol production, allowing her and her neighbors to make as much of the dessert as they could. And ChildFund provided the ingredients for their first run. Most importantly, we’ve invested capital in the business, which has helped Miriam and her neighbors escape debt.
Before the typhoon, the binagol-makers took loans to buy the ingredients, repaying loans from their profits as they’re made. With ChildFund’s investment, though, the women don’t start off in debt and are now putting 10 percent of their profits into savings so their startup capital will grow.
Now Miriam and her neighbors individually produce binagol, and they no longer labor merely to pay debt. They’re able to increase their village’s total production many times. With their increased production capacity, they’ve been able to broker an agreement with a wholesaler.
“I’m pleased and surprised how much better business is now,” Miriam says. “Life was so difficult after Haiyan, I was desperate to find a new way to feed my three children. I’m glad I can return to what I’m skilled at and provide better for my family.”
ChildFund’s response to Ebola continues, as the number of diagnosed cases nears 9,000, with 4,493 deaths recorded. For the next five days (until Oct. 20), you can listen to a BBC interview (go to the 44-minute mark) with Billy Abimbilla, national director of Liberia and Sierra Leone, and Ebola survivor and volunteer Decontee Davis about the Interim Care Center started for Liberian children affected by the deadly virus. It’s a remarkable story, and Billy reports that Liberians are volunteering to foster and adopt children orphaned by Ebola. You can read more and help our efforts in West Africa through the Ebola Response Fund.
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
Home from an afternoon at the beach, my brothers, sisters, cousins and I would sit crowded on the front porch, still in our swimsuits with our feet crusted in sand, eating ice cream made with heavy cream, sugar, eggs, vanilla and fresh peaches. My first summer living in Senegal, I found a cast-off barrel freezer, bought mangoes from the market and a block of ice and sea salt from the local fishery, then invited my friends to an ice cream party, which brought back those memories from the beach.
Food is far more than just nutrition; it’s also a universal symbol of hospitality. Sharing a meal creates community. Food comforts us when its scent or flavor triggers emotion and memory.
Comfort food is generational as well as geographical. Senegalese children take comfort in a knobby green fruit called corossol, with flesh the color, flavor and texture of custard. Ugandan children scoping out street food choose kabalagala, a deep-fried doughnut made of sweet fingerling bananas and cassava flour. And children in Guinea suck on small bags of frozen bissap, gingembre or pain de singe – hibiscus, ginger or baobab fruit juices.
Food shortages throw families and communities into crisis, and it’s mainly a distribution problem because we have enough food to feed everyone. Food shortages result from climate change, waste or spoilage, poor infrastructure, unstable markets, conflicts, politics and disease.
We rarely consider disease as a factor in hunger, but epidemics dramatically affect food availability. HIV and AIDS, by primarily killing adults between ages 25 and 45, leave the back-breaking labor of farming to the children and elderly. Annual bouts of malaria reduce a farmer’s capacity to plant and harvest. And the Ebola outbreak in western Africa threatens food security through human response.
Ebola spread as people moved freely around the Western Guinean Lowland Forest that spans southern Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. This shared ecosystem is home to ethnic groups whose family members extend across all three countries. Borders in the rainforest are unofficial and permeable. Initially, Ebola cases clustered in the triangle where Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia meet. But in time, as the infected sought treatment elsewhere, Ebola was transmitted to every district in Sierra Leone and to all but two of Liberia’s southernmost districts.
An early approach to limiting Ebola involved closing land borders. This tactic threatened thousands with starvation because more than three-quarters of Liberia’s produce comes from Guinea. Sierra Leone cannot cultivate enough crops to feed its population, either, and relies on trade with Guinea.
Also, Liberia quarantined towns and Sierra Leone locked down the country for a time. Because many western Africans lack a reliable source of electricity, they have no refrigeration and must purchase food daily. Otherwise, it perishes.
In October, the blog is focusing on the harvest and traditional foods. Stay tuned this month for recipes from some of the countries where we work.
ChildFund’s emergency management unit provided a status report late last week on the spread of the Ebola virus in our program areas in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Senegal, which has reported only one case so far. Read more here about Guinea, too. To help, you can make a gift to our Ebola Response Fund, which will help ChildFund support local efforts to control the virus’ spread and provide information and resources to communities.
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
Ebola, a deadly and extremely painful virus, has broken out in western Africa. We asked Meg, who worked in Uganda during a previous outbreak, to share her impressions of Ebola and how it’s spread.
In Guinea’s Forest Region, where the world’s latest Ebola outbreak began, a bat is considered a delicacy — unless it’s your totem animal. If your family name is Guemou, Gbilimou, Gamamou, Balamou or Kolamou, you won’t eat bats, dogs or snakes.
You’ll also be at slightly less risk of contracting Ebola. Researchers believe that one in three West African bats carries Ebola antibodies. Even animals with no sign of illness can infect humans through blood or body fluids.
Every Ebola outbreak begins with a single animal-to-human transmission, then spreads from human to human through direct contact with blood, saliva, perspiration, urine, feces, organs, even semen. After an incubation period of two to 21 days, those infected pass Ebola on — often to family members and health care workers.
In Guinea, doctors initially mistook Ebola for Lassa, another viral hemorrhagic fever that accounts for about one in seven hospital admissions across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Hospitals there often lack laboratories equipped to distinguish one virus from another.
Rats excrete the Lassa virus in their urine. It disperses during the daily sweeping of dirt floors, and then humans inhale it. Lassa, like malaria, requires vector control. Ebola’s transmission, on the other hand, plays into religion and culture; greetings, hospitality, caring for the sick, personal hygiene and funeral preparations all can cause its transmission.
I lived in Uganda in 2007 when a new strain of Ebola surfaced on its border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Guinea’s virus is also a new strain, very closely related to the type from the DRC. Back in 2007, an infected doctor seeking treatment in Uganda’s capital brought Ebola to Kampala. This March, an infected doctor brought Ebola to Guinea’s capital, Conakry.
In 2007, Uganda threatened to close Entebbe International Airport. Now, Senegal has closed its land border with Guinea, The Gambia cancelled flights into Conakry, and other passengers must undergo health screening at arrival and departure. Saudi Arabia has even suspended visas for the haj, meaning that Guineans and Liberians won’t be among the pilgrims to Mecca this October. Muslims save money for decades to make pilgrimages on behalf of their families. Upon return, they bless all who shake their hands.
Ebola twists, knots and adorns itself in filaments. It is one of the most lethal pathogens on earth, and the U.S. has classified it under bioterrorism. There’s no vaccine, cure or treatment. If your immune system can’t fight it off, the virus bores holes in your blood vessels. Ebola kills most of its human hosts. Since it’s rare for Guineans and Liberians to ever touch a microscope or see germs, many still attribute sudden death caused by Ebola to sorcery.
No child should have to watch her mother die alone, touched only by doctors encased in protective armor. No father should suffer the agony of having infected his child. And those who recover don’t deserve stigma. Please help us counter fear with education and hygiene interventions.