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Indonesia Tsunami Memories: 'One Human Family'

On December 26, 2004, the Indian Ocean tsunami erased entire villages, washed away hundreds of thousands of lives, and left millions homeless. Catholic Relief Services began responding immediately in Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

CRS Indonesia tsunami recovery staff

Many CRS Indonesia tsunami recovery staff are now assisting with the agency's response to a major earthquake that hit West Sumatra on September 30, 2009. Photo by Debbie DeVoe/CRS

Five years later, CRS is closing our tsunami response, recovery and reconstruction program in Indonesia. CRS staff has worked closely with thousands of people, helping them rebuild their lives as well as their homes.

Debbie DeVoe, CRS' regional information officer for eastern and southern Africa, traveled to Indonesia after a recent earthquake. While there, she sat down with CRS Indonesia staff members to capture their thoughts as the tsunami response program in the Aceh region came to a close.

Debbie DeVoe:
What are the most significant changes you've seen?
Eddy Kurniawan, Procurement Officer:
Most people in Aceh were fishermen and some were farmers. After the tsunami, all of this stopped because boats and fields were destroyed. So we had to support people in getting back to work. Farmers became construction workers, and people have been working for nongovernmental organizations [NGOs], so people have been able to save money. Farmers who had a small area to farm can now farm more land because land was less expensive to buy.

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

Grace Sihombing, Administration Manager:
When we first arrived, the economy was flat. You couldn't find anything. I heard that 30 percent of the population started working with NGOs. Now their economy is getting better, their education is better, and they have their homes back.
Lily Wayong, Human Resources Manager:
Internally, our team in Aceh changed. It wasn't just work. It was more like a family. People came from all over, but we all had the same mission. Communication improved, and you got to really understand the temperaments of people and how to deal with them.

"It wasn't just work. It was more like a family."
~Lily Wayong, Human Resources Manager

Maulia Sabrina, Finance Assistant:
In Aceh, we lived in conflict for many years, but we survived. Then because of the tsunami, they had the conference in Helsinki to mediate peace. All of the buildings were rebuilt, so now they are better. And CRS built a hospital for mothers and children. I'm proud to be a part of the CRS team that built that hospital. We are "one human family."
The first time we entered southern Aceh, people closed their doors on us. Now they're more like family. We are not only building a house or a hospital or a bridge. We are building relationships.
Before because of the conflict, they didn't trust anyone. They didn't trust us. But with our good approach, they started to open up slowly.

"We are not only building a house or a hospital or a bridge. We are building relationships."
~Lily Wayong, Human Resources Manager

What do you think will now happen in tsunami-affected communities?
The NGOs made a big effect, and people depended on them economically. After two to three years, life will be normal again.
With NGOs leaving, maybe now people will earn less money. But they have saved money, and maybe they can continue working with the government on infrastructure projects. A year before NGOs were leaving, the government also started to look into opening factories and getting outside investments to give people other jobs. This is really good, because it gives people opportunities.
How has your experience in Aceh affected the current earthquake response in West Sumatra?
Aceh was CRS' biggest project. We were meeting people from around the world and Indonesia, which was really interesting and a big challenge. Now it's easier working in Padang, because we can use the experience we gained in Aceh on the West Sumatra Emergency Response program. There's no culture shock anymore. And we have greater confidence because of our knowledge from Aceh.
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