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From Tsunami to Earthquake: Indonesia Response

After almost five years of tsunami recovery work in Indonesia, Catholic Relief Services began shutting down its offices in the northern part of Sumatra island this fall. Then a 7.6-magnitude earthquake hit the greater Padang area on September 30, 2009. CRS immediately jumped back into action, asking tsunami staff to join the CRS Indonesia emergency response team in West Sumatra.

Wahyu Widayanto

Wahyu Widayanto, second from right, and other CRS tsunami staff meet with new partners to organize the earthquake response in West Sumatra province in Indonesia. Photo by Debbie DeVoe/CRS

Debbie DeVoe, CRS' regional information officer for eastern and southern Africa, visited Padang a week after the quake to help document CRS' response. While there, she interviewed Wahyu Widayanto, CRS Indonesia's deputy health program manager, who spent years supporting health projects in Aceh and is now assisting with the earthquake response in West Sumatra.

Debbie DeVoe:
How long have you worked for CRS?
Wahyu Widayanto:

I've been with CRS for 11 years, working the last five on tsunami response. I closed our office in Meulaboh on September 30, having first arrived there in January 2005—15 or 20 days after the [Indian Ocean] tsunami. The day after the [recent] earthquake happened, I was called by our country team leader Yenni Suryani to come to Padang to help with the response.

What was it like arriving in Padang?

It's a totally different kind of emergency. In Aceh, the tsunami so totally destroyed everything. But here there are spots that are hit badly, but other buildings are still there. There are victims, but not like in Aceh. And the markets and stores reopened after just a week.

How is your work in Aceh helping the earthquake response in West Sumatra?

In Aceh, I had to go directly to the community. I had to communicate and coordinate with community leaders, the village health centers, the district health offices and the ministry of health. This was great experience for improving my communications skills. It made it easy to do the rapid assessment and focus group discussions here to learn of communities' needs.

What are the biggest challenges right now?

Timing. We need to go fast, but sometimes we don't have enough data. Sometimes the government data isn't complete enough, so we need to verify information in the field.

We just started with a new partner named WALHI, a nongovernmental organization. They are watching how we do assessments, community discussion and distributions and are quickly learning the best way to serve affected people. For example, after identifying beneficiaries with a community, we do a formal verification with the village leader so everyone agrees on decisions made to minimize the possibility of conflict.

How is the response going?

December 26 marked the fifth anniversary of one of the world's most horrific natural disasters—the Indian Ocean tsunami. Learn more about CRS's work to leave the tsunami's survivors with a legacy of hope.


Most of the staff here in Padang is from the Aceh team. This is a great asset for CRS. In fact, most tsunami staff contracts ended on September 30. Some people were called when they were on vacation—one came in from an island. So when people leave CRS, they haven't totally left. They still have a connection and feel they can still learn many things through this organization.

We are now using skills we learned in Aceh. But because the culture is different here, you can't just apply the same responses. You have to use creative thinking and flexibility. And we need to communicate with communities, so we can implement another good, appropriate response.

What was most rewarding about your experience in Aceh?

We were helping with integrated management of childhood illnesses, a health approach that improves the medical diagnosis of children. We did a lot of trainings and workshops. This really increased the capacity of regional health staff and of volunteers at village health posts, which provide services directly in communities to babies, children under 5 and mothers.

Was it difficult to leave Aceh?

I think it's okay because we did something successful. We left a legacy to the government and the communities that they can continue to build on.

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