“Long-term Aid Helps Tsunami Victims along the Road to Recovery,” Ensign, June 2008, 76–78
It was a long process for Sukardi of Indonesia and his family to find closure and hope following the 2004 tsunami that devastated the coasts of Southeast Asia.
“We thought it was the end of the world; it was unbelievable,” said Sukardi, looking back to December 26, 2004, the day a massive underwater earthquake struck off the coast of Indonesia, causing a tsunami that killed more than 225,000 people in 11 countries. “But we are alive, and we are together, and we are happy.”
Sukardi, like thousands of others, lost family members and friends, his home, land, and nearly his own life. After being washed away with the tsunami, he managed to grab hold of a coconut tree and cling to it as he waited for the floodwaters to recede.
Joined by family members, each with similar survival stories, Sukardi now resides in a home built with the help of Latter-day Saint Charities, an arm of Church Humanitarian Services, as part of the Church’s efforts to assist tsunami survivors.
The Church’s emergency relief efforts during the months immediately following the tragedy provided commodities such as food, hygiene kits, medical supplies, and clothing. Because of members’ significant donations, the Church began planning longer-term relief. As part of that long-term effort, fishermen and carpenters were given jobs constructing more than 130 replacement fishing boats. Men were hired to use large, wide-tracked backhoes to help reconstruct the dikes around shrimp farms. Sewing machines, looms, hand tractors, and other tools were donated to encourage a return to self-sufficiency.
“All of the first year was focused on reestablishing livelihood and helping individuals get back to work,” said Brett Bass, director of Church Humanitarian Services. “Then we looked at our resources, identified the most pressing needs, and refocused our efforts on permanent reconstruction.”
The Church’s efforts included constructing community centers, homes, schools, medical clinics, and clean water systems—all made possible by a tremendous outpouring of humanitarian generosity by Church members from around the world.
The Church’s monumental efforts in Indonesia concluded in December 2007. Major projects included building 902 homes and 3 community centers, constructing 15 schools, building 3 fully equipped health clinics, rebuilding a hospital wing, and completing 24 village water projects.
Abdul Samad lived in a hastily constructed community barracks for two and a half years before he and his family moved into their new home. He lost his wife and her mother in the flood but now hopes to make life better for his remaining family, three daughters and a son.
Each of the 902 homes built and donated is 44 square meters. The hundreds of recipients frequently said they believe their homes were the best homes built and that they would pass them on to their children and grandchildren. They expressed gratitude for having something solid and reliable in their lives again.
“When the earthquake hit and the tsunami followed, the first thing they did, if they were in their house, was run outside,” said Jeff McMurdo from the International Organization for Migration, which partnered with the Church to build homes. “From the moment it started, they were running. So when they get the keys to a house, they are able to get some measure of closure to the whole tragedy of the tsunami experience.”
The Church partnered with Islamic Relief and the Adventist Development and Relief Agency to build 15 schools, train new teachers, and develop curriculum and education support systems.
Many of the area’s teachers were killed in the tsunami. Kamaruzzaman, a teacher from Banda Aceh, is one of just two surviving teachers from his school.
“They have been going to a temporary building for school—a community hall where there are about 40 students in the room,” said Kamaruzzaman, who is now a head schoolmaster of a newly built school.
Each school building was furnished with desks, whiteboards, and libraries. As more teachers became available, an emphasis was put on training and developing new curriculum.
“The students now have a better school that’s more helpful to learning. They now have a more hopeful future,” said Kamaruzzaman.
Herliana, an education coordinator for Islamic Relief, is proud to be a part of this project. “There were no schools; there were few trained teachers left,” she said. “This has been a great contribution to the communities. Together we are making a big difference in the lives of the children, teachers, parents, and families.”
Fauziah, an animated and smiling woman, is now a water operator for her small village near Bireuen in Aceh Provence. In this position, she keeps records and collects water-usage fees from those who use the community’s new water system.
In partnership with International Relief and Development, the Church completed 24 village water projects that consisted of renovating wells, installing storage tanks, improving sanitation, and upgrading delivery systems. These efforts are providing clean water to 20,000 people.
“Before, it was hard to get good water and it took a long time to go get it,” said Fauziah as she expressed gratitude to have access right outside her home. “Now our children will be healthier and will have a better future.”
Bath and laundry facilities were also built in the villages, and residents received training on how to take care of the facilities and keep them clean.
While each village also received personal hygiene training, the more elaborate efforts to improve health care moved forward with the completion of three fully equipped health clinics and the rebuilding of a hospital wing.
“This is much-needed,” said Syarman, a community leader in the Bireuen district, where access to medical care previously required a 15-kilometer walk. “Our people will be able to get needed medical assistance near their homes. It is better than before, and we are grateful.”
The Church also arranged training for doctors and medical staff and provided needed medical equipment.
For Bill and Linda Hamm of Anchorage, Alaska, USA, the work presented a personal challenge: they were called to serve as humanitarian service missionaries to oversee tsunami relief efforts in Indonesia. “We were exhilarated by the challenges and overwhelmed by the opportunity,” Brother Hamm said.
This opportunity was also extended to Jim and Karen Greding of Thousand Oaks, California, USA. They were called to oversee the completion of the projects after Brother and Sister Hamm’s 18-month mission concluded.
“We were to oversee the quality of the work and to make sure the money allotted for projects was being used properly,” Sister Greding said. Church representatives were present at every stage of the process; that provision, combined with its funding methods, distinguished the Church from other organizations.
“We regarded our finances as sacred funds and made every effort to see these funds used efficiently and not wasted,” said Bill Reynolds, director of field operations for tsunami relief. “We provided sequential funding that relied on benchmark expectations that we personally oversaw. The organizations we worked with knew that if we said we wanted something done and in a certain way, they needed to meet those expectations.”
The Church focused on helping Indonesia and its people take a simple step forward, a step away from tragedy and pain, a step toward reestablishing life. While these efforts played just a small part among those of the many individuals and organizations that offered aid to the tsunami victims, the missionaries were able to share their love, the love of the members, and the pure love of Christ.
“We were not permitted to proselyte, but we were representing the Lord and tried to share our testimonies through our work by being kind and polite or simply by smiling,” Sister Hamm said. “Sometimes we had the opportunity to explain where the funds came from, and we told about our prophet and how he called for a 24-hour fast, with the money that would otherwise be spent on food to be donated to a special fund. I think the Spirit bore witness and they understood that there were individuals around the world who loved them.”
Evidences of the tsunami are still very much apparent, but the people have expressed gratitude for every effort that has been made on their behalf.
“This is simply an experience you can never forget, and anyone who travels to these areas will not be able to miss the evidences of destruction where the land became sea permanently, where so many lost their lives and loved ones,” Sister Greding said. “But many who were suspicious of Christians have changed their hearts. Some stared at us, but most in their limited English said to us, ‘Thank you, mister.’ We heard that often.”