January 3, 2005 through September 1, 2005

FCF Project Partner Family Care Indonesia reports:

September 1, 2005
Recently the director of a large energy company here in Jakarta donated a new ambulance valued at over $35,000 for use in Aceh. At the time, this donor shared a dream that he and university friends had conceived years ago --- to set up a free, 24-hour ambulance service in Aceh, complete with hotline phone, medic and all. Having learned about our work here, the director decided to channel the ambulance through Family Care Indonesia. Coordinating this undertaking with a community leader in Banda Aceh, we are happy to announce that this free ambulance service is now a reality. (See photos at right.)

July 5, 2005
Sometimes we look back on the initial funding that we received from Family Care Foundation to build fishing boats and marvel at what has transpired.

Our initial relief work had put us in touch with different fishermen in various villages, and this factor played a big part in Family Care determining that the next focus of our efforts would be supplying boats to help jumpstart their source of livelihood.

Wen, whose boat yard is producing the boats for our program, has produced fishing boats that have quickly gained a reputation for being “real boats”, possibly the best in the province, which many people have come around to see.

The shipyards are now getting orders for boats from others as a result. So FCF's financial assistance is not only providing the seed corn to supplying boats for fisherman, providing them with a livelihood, but this FCF program has inspired others and has become a catalyst for stimulating the local economy.

Wen’s boat yard is on the same street as the UN FAO headquarters, which is headed up by a master ship builder from Australia. After the inauguration of our first boats, this fellow came by to discuss the project and shared some complimentary observations about our boats. Next, one of our boat builders was invited to a six-week training course for builders from all over the province. Soon the UN FAO placed an order themselves, contracting our boat yard.

Recently, the President of a local company donated a new $35,000 ambulance and so now a proposal is on the table to set up and operate a 24-hour free ambulance service with hotline phone, medic and all.

Today we had a two-hour meeting with the Ministry in charge of overseeing the re-construction and rehabilitation of Aceh. They expressed how impressed they have been to see how much has been accomplished by our little team with our small resources, as compared to the large agencies with their millions, and consequently they are considering channeling help through us.

Meet some Tsunami Survivors

June 15, 2005
Mobile phones are lifelines here. The ones we distributed are for survival, not lifestyle.

We distributed mobile phones to some outstanding teachers who had lost everything, and were living on the floor of simple, Spartan school buildings, resolved to keep on teaching. This act alone provided security and normalcy to the pupils, including many newly orphaned children.

Then we met Sri, Rizal, Agus, Cut Cinta, Hasan, Indra, Fitri and their friends – all volunteers with the local branch of the Red Cross (PMI).

“They are true volunteers,” said their supervisor. “They work around the clock. They receive no salary – only food a couple of times a day. It has been a demanding situation. We all live in tents. We are refugees ourselves.”

Sri, previously a student at the teachers college, told how she miraculously escaped the waves. Her rented room, computer, her assignments and textbooks and newly completed thesis, etc., were all wiped out.

Now, months later, the workload as a Red Cross volunteer is less and she is getting back to re-do her work so she can graduate. Her vision is clear, but there are obstacles! The library is gone! She has to rent computer time per hour in a small noisy public place. She has no home or belongings, only the clothes she is wearing.

Nevertheless, Sri has a radiant personality & strong faith that God will provide! No doubt she’ll soon graduate & become a compassionate teacher.

We can only say that our lives and mindsets have been forever altered by the interactions we have been blessed to have with the brave and God-fearing people we have met here – not just survivors but overcomers!

June 10, 2005
We had first met Nasir in a refugee camp in Lepung, situated down the coast from Banda Aceh. Out of a population of 5000 in Lepung, only 125 survived.

When the 35-meter (100 foot) wave hit, Nasir had been driving a front-end-loader at the local cement factory.

‘I saw the wave coming but didn’t move my tractor. At first, I thought it was just a larger than normal wave. It just kept coming, and then I saw another larger wave come. I began moving my tractor to higher ground, and then began running. I expected to be swept over by the wave at any moment,’ he recalls.

In an instant, Nazir’s 30-year-old wife, 3 beautiful children and all that he had were gone. “For the past 20 years I spent nothing on myself or on any other luxuries in order to build a home for my family. Only a few months ago, I had finally reached my goal. Our home was finished and furnished. I had also just made a down payment on a new motorcycle.”

There was something especially endearing about Nasir, so obviously broken and yet so open to receiving encouragement. After our original meeting, we gave him a booklet of quotations on ‘comfort in times of trouble’ and took a couple photos together.

Months later, Nasir came to mind and I began wondering if we would ever meet him again, since a visit to his particular camp was not on our schedule.

“Hello, what a surprise to meet you here!” We looked up to the cheery voice of Nasir standing right outside the door of the restaurant. Even more amazingly, we had the photos along that we’d taken months before.

Nasir looked at the photos and asked if we could take some new ones. “I was so sad and gloomy in those photos. I don’t want to be like that.” And so of course new photos were taken. (See photo at right)

Nasir then made a special request: “As you know, my wife & kids got taken by the tsunami. I have no photos of them. I’ve been able to collect some pieces of old photos that show my wife and two of my 3 children. My friends had them and gave them to me. Please can you help me to fix the pictures – to make one of me standing by my wife?” 

That evening I scanned and made a test edit of his photos, which he excitedly approved the next day. Back in Jakarta we brought them to a studio where they have now been professionally re-touched, showing Nasir and his beloved wife and children.

Nasir lost 77 direct family members on his side of the family, and a similar amount on his wife’s side. Being a very diligent man he mapped out a ‘family tree’, recording all the family members who perished in the tsunami. At the bottom, Nasir wrote:

A message from M. Nasir, live witness –
To the people who are still alive, children, and grandchildren. This is for future reference, we are telling you the signs before a tsunami –

  • A very strong earthquake
  • A very loud noise in the ocean (like the sound of a bomb)
  • A receding water level
  • Big wave coming from the ocean

Note: if there is a loud nose like an explosion in the ocean, followed by a very strong earthquake, please run to the highest part of the mountain to save yourself from the tsunami.

May 25, 2005
After December's tsunami, mobile phones became lifelines. Landlines were down & communications very difficult. Family Care Foundation allocated funding purchasing 6-dozen mobile phones to be given away to select individuals. We have recently placed another 24 of these mobile phones into the hands of very deserving volunteers and teachers, all of whom we have identified as helping many others in the region.

May 1st, 2005
Our ‘shipyard’ that is producing the fishing boats we’ve ordered has received the motors, which are in their shipping boxes waiting to be installed.

This project has generated a lot of interest from the local community, government officials and other NGOs, and according to our friend in charge, the shipyards are now getting orders for boats from others as a result.

And a special thanks to you wonderful folks there in New York, who donated to FCF. Thanks to you, and all our supporters, for your encouragement, thoughts and prayers. Because of you, the first 8 families now have a post-tsunami livelihood!

March 26th
Since we have been involved in this project, we have spent a fair bit of time with different fishermen in various villages.

In one such area, the waterfront of the city reflects the direct brunt of the tsunami. Only 12 people survived of 2,000 that lived in this village at the time. Another 190 people survived simply because they were not there when it happened.

We spoke to two of the 12 survivors, one of which is a 12-year-old boy (perhaps more fitting to call him a man, after his ordeal) who survived by holding onto a piece of wood. He was carried over 2 miles by the wave and ended up with a serious wound on his left arm, which looked like a small shark took a bite, but was actually from colliding with a sheet of metal roofing in the rubble.

Another survivor we spoke with is a 5th generation fisherman who was on his boat with 20 men at sea when the waves started coming in. He turned into the waves, negotiating them like you see in "The Perfect Storm". There were three huge waves, the second being the biggest. They braced themselves, gunned the motor, going up the wave and then backing off on the way down and so on...an amazing story. I could visualize this wholly unique experience as this weatherworn seaman, with only a few teeth, related it.

This man, and others from their seaman's guild (my description) of fishermen, plus local boat owners, and builders were from another nearby population area. Of 7,000 inhabitants, 1,800 survived, as they were able to run far enough away to escape when the water was coming, (and/or were simply not there when it happened.) 

Feb 3rd, 2005
In recent days, Family Care Indonesia has earned accolades from a number of major players here: Another international aid organization praised FCI for our “handling and understanding of the local people”, and have consequently channeled a large amount of goods through us, including generators to be dispersed to different camps. A rotating team of Korean doctors are grateful for the translators we provided to help in their medical work, as well as for helping them gain an understanding of the local people. A social worker writes a glowing report about “the invaluable help she received from Family Care Indonesia volunteers” and wants to see how we can work together in the future.

January 21, 2005
From our conversations, there does not seem to be anyone in Aceh who has not been directly affected. It seems everyone has lost at least one relative to the tsunami. Oftentimes, we encounter folks who have lost 5 or 10. One dear woman lost all 11 of her children. We meet grandparents who have lost all their children and all their grandchildren. Others have stories of clutching three children in their arms, and two having been swept away. The stories are universal and heart rending. 

Despite such experiences, in many cases, it is their faith in the Almighty that buoys their hope to carry on.

January 19, 2005
We’ve seen and experienced so much. One of the most special moments I experienced was when we were visiting various refugee camps to the south of the city to find out the needs and conditions of each in order to find how we might help. We asked if there were any especially disturbed or traumatized people in the camp that needed help. With a wave of the arm one man said something like, "Well, there's that woman over there. She lost all her children, her husband, parents, friends and house and she just lies there now." 

The crowd parted and I could see a woman around 30 years old, curled up in a fetal position on a towel on the floor by the wall. It was a moment when instincts click in and I went over to the woman, sat down on the floor next to her, took her hand in mine while putting my other hand on her head and began to pray quietly for her. The entire room crowded around watching what was happening while one of my interpreters helped to translate between the woman and me. 

I was just praying that God would give her the will to live and to help her move on from the severe trauma and horror she had experienced. She looked at me and said, "It's over, it's over", referring to all that she had lost. She was looking at me but had a glazed, distant look in her eyes like we had seen in others there that had been through that degree of loss and shock. 
I told her that God had seen fit for her to live and that we hoped she would receive hope and love and would live again inside her heart. I told her that everyone in the room there loved her and were there for her. 

It was all over in less than ten minutes, just one of those things that happen without any premeditation. It was evidently something that very much struck my Acehnese friends who were there as they said they had never seen anything like that. One of them said, "You care about us more than we care about ourselves". I realized later that several taboos were broken at that time, my touching an Islamic woman and my praying for her, among others. 

But it didn’t matter. I got through to her.

January 18, 2005
We are now collaborating with another international agency that specializes in working with traumatized children and mothers. This collaboration has become one of our most fruitful ways of actually ministering personally to individuals. And our cooperation with those folks, many of whom have been in other trouble spots in the past (like places in Africa), has gone really well for both sides. In some cases they have turned over their work to us after they had to fly back to their home countries.

Every day is so different and challenging. We feel we are being swept along by a spiritual wave of concern and compassion, a creative wave to help restore the ones that are left here.

As part of our program for emotional healing for children, the clown and magic show has been a major hit along with the puppets. Besides that the team also was called on to give a trauma counseling session to a large group of over 100 PMI (Indonesian Red Cross) volunteers. Then they also were able to go out and do meaningful and therapeutic puppet shows for the kids.

January 17, 2005
It’s now been two weeks since our first team arrived in Banda Aceh, and we are flying by U.S. Navy helicopter into Lhoong accompanying our Korean doctor colleagues. Helicopter is the only way to reach it as the bridges are all destroyed. 

The head of the Lhoong district was in the camp with us and explained that, of 28 villages that were in the Lhoong district, only 4 were not destroyed. Many of the people in the camp where we were had walked all the way up the coast to be able to stay at the camps.

January 8, 2005
We decided to send a team to investigate conditions in camps along the coast to the southwest of the city. One of us ended up leading a team of locals who had befriended us. Over the next two days we visited around 10 camps, ranging from groups of 50 people living on the grounds of relatives, to camps that took care of up to 7,000 people. We communicated our findings to the doctors we were working with and soon we and they were setting up their clinics and our childcare teams in some of the larger of these camps, places that had had almost no medical help or attention till then.

As we got further outside Banda Aceh, folks in general got a good deal more "provincial". It helped that we were not all foreigners but a mix of foreigners, Indonesians and also local Acehnese friends to give us creditability. 

We followed the lead of our local colleagues as we drove southwest: if a camp was on the side of the road towards the coast, we stopped and investigated. If a camp was on the foothills side of the road, they urged us to let the government troops visit those. In the past some of our companions had been captured by "GAM", the Acehnese national resistance movement who live up in the hills there, and they didn't want to take any chance in getting into that again. (It did work out that a week or so later we visited camps on that side of the road, some of them very needy indeed, without incident.)

In one camp, one of the largest that we visited, our first impression or feeling was that we were not too welcome. We talked to the heads of the camp and realized that they somehow thought we had come around to check up on them. Once they understood that our aim was to find if they could use some free professional medical help from the Koreans and that we had no other intention but to be a benefit, they softened up and became much more amiable. It did turn out that we were able to set up medical and childcare facilities in that camp after several days and this has been the largest place so far that we've worked in.

As the days passed, we moved more to help in the situation towards the southwest. We found that we could only drive maybe 10 miles southwest of Banda Aceh before we reached the first of many destroyed bridges that are all down the coast towards the very worst hit city of them all, Meulaboh.

January 7, 2005
In spite of the billions of dollars in aid pledged, there are enormous logistical and practical barriers to that aid translating into direct immediate help for these thousands of refugees. In all modern history, this humanitarian venture is an unprecedented event, and we find it awesome that with all the world's largest aid agencies that our little band should be among the first to come in to any large grouping of refugees with help of this kind.

These are the most Islamic people in Indonesia, in ways more linked to Middle Eastern history than to Indonesian. They have seen very few foreigners since the entire province has been made off limits to foreigners for years by the national government, because of the civil war going on there. In that sense, we are constantly on stage every minute, usually hundreds watching us.

One of our Indonesian friends told us some of what the local people had been asking him about us. Things like, "Why have they come here? We always heard that all foreigners are bad. But now they have come here to help us and they ask nothing in return. This has made us really question what we had formerly believed."

So this was perhaps one of the most encouraging things to us that, in this unique time for these people, the faith, joy and hope that we brought there was every bit as needed and appreciated as the thousands of tons of aid that has begun to pour in. In fact, we were often told that there was almost no one there helping people in the manner we are.

January 4, 2005
We drove north of Banda Aceh to the Neuhnen refugee camp: 2,500 people living under plastic sheeting on a side of a hill overlooking what was once their houses and 5 villages. To their credit, the Acehnese refugees were doing a fair job on their own of banding together and trying to help each other to some degree.

We met a newly arrived team of Korean doctors in the camp who were trying to get set up to help the many sick and injured. But they had no interpreters and were having a difficult time communicating with the refugees. Over the next few days, those of us who are bi-lingual worked as translators for the medical team, plus began doing impromptu activities with the hundreds of children in the camp. 

By the end of the day, we had also organized programs for hundreds of kids, teaching them songs, singing with them, and just doing whatever we could to transmit love and hope to them. Even our Korean doctor friends got involved, singing some Korean songs and doing the motions, which everyone enjoyed. On the outer circles of it all were the village elders and parents who came to see what their kids were so excited about. The kids laughed and laughed, a measure therapeutic in itself. 

So whether we spend time organizing games for the kids or having them do coloring with crayons, these simple activities mean a lot to these children that some part of their lives return to “normal”. In other situations we have just played football with them, and one of the teams has brought in a clown show and a puppet theater.

When we first witnessed the aftermath of Banda Aceh, we wondered if it would be appropriate to try to spread joy and hope at this time. But when we made contact with the tsunami survivors, we found that this is what was most desired in many ways, to have their spirits lifted. And so we have concentrated on organizing activities for all the young people there so they are not just wandering around, bored and mulling over all they have been through.

January 3, 2005
At first foreigners were not allowed into the affected area, so we were only able to fly into Banda Aceh 8 days after the tsunami hit. Driving in from the airport it all didn't actually look so bad. However after reaching the city limits, the scale of the disaster really hit us. 

The utter, utter destruction continued mile after mile after mile. The only people around were some that were beginning to scoop up and carry away the millions of tons of rubble. The others were the ever-present teams of "body-baggers". 

Much of the city of 250,000 was devoid of life. Just soldiers, a few clean up crews and the many small "armies" of young men employed to gather bodies. There was no electricity for much of the city and locals spread stories of “ghosts that were everywhere”, so no one wanted to be out after dark.

Banner sign identifies our boat yard
Thomas at dedication ceremony
8-meter boats can carry 2 tons of fish
First fishing boat heading out (on truck)
Mobile phones presented to worthy volunteers
Our initial team of relief workers
Nasir (left) with Thomas, FCI Project Manager.
Loading relief supplies on helicopter for Aceh
Children retain their joy of living, despite conditions around them
Cheering up the children with music programs at refugee camp
Clowning away the clouds!
Emotional rehab program for children: Puppet shows with meaning!