Kathy Mueller, Canadian Red Cross, in Indonesia
On 30 September and on 1 October, earthquakes rocked West Sumatra, Indonesia, leaving tens of thousands in search of humanitarian assistance. The Indonesia Red Cross (PMI) and its volunteers responded immediately, coming to the aid of those in need. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has launched an emergency appeal seeking 19 million Swiss francs to help PMI to assist 100,000 affected people (5,000 families) for six months. Kathy Mueller was in Padang and surrounding villages and shares a personal account of what she has seen.
After 18 days, my time in West Sumatra has come to an end. I have seen and experienced a lot during that time, shedding a few tears along the way, as well as sharing in laughter. Below are some of my more poignant memories.
Rosna: This frail 82 year old lady grabbed me by the arm to show me the remains of her house in Cubadak Air. What I saw stopped me in my tracks. It didn’t matter in which direction one looked, every house in her immediate neighbourhood was severely damaged, if not outright destroyed. Rosna’s children in Jakarta are trying to scrounge up enough money to bring her there, but she realizes they are poor and does not want to accept their offer for fear of becoming a burden. She cries when she tells me this.
Cleaning up: The big companies in Padang have access to heavy equipment so sifting through the debris of crumbled buildings is still a big job, but relatively easy. It’s not so easy for home owners or those with small shops. Using their hands, shovels and sledge hammers, they hack away at the large piles of concrete. Some wear protective face masks to guard against whatever harmful chemicals might be in the dust they are stirring up. Some work under half-collapsed structures that continue to perch ever so precariously. I try not to imagine what would happen should another earthquake or tremor occur while they are working.
Ambacang Hotel: I found myself walking slower when I passed by this collapsed hotel in Padang every day. Thinking about the regular activities people inside would have been doing at the time; attending conferences; swimming; eating; working; reading; sleeping; checking in. There were 108 rooms at the Ambacang. That’s a lot of people. I think of those who were trapped when entire floors collapsed on top of them; of the remains of possibly hundreds who still lie buried in the rubble. Then, in the midst of all the destruction, I spot three coffee cups and saucers, sitting, stacked and undisturbed on a desk on what appears to be the third storey of the hotel. I have questions to which there are no answers.
Yopi: When I met Yopi he was a new volunteer with the Indonesian Red Cross, having just signed up following the earthquake. He wanted to be on the Search and Rescue team, to go digging for survivors and victims. The 18 year old volunteer is sitting on the side of a hill, a protective face mask around his neck. He is watching as a heavy piece of machinery digs, and digs and digs, trying to find a house buried in a landslide. There are three people in that house, including a boy very close in age to Yopi. He gets choked up when I ask him about that. He realizes that but for some twist of fate, it could be him buried beneath the mud.
Volunteers: Yopi is one of hundreds of volunteers with the Indonesian Red Cross (PMI) who have come to West Sumatra to help. They are filling different kinds of roles. Some provide medical aid, some distribute relief items, some provide counselling to those suffering from trauma, and some help provide clean water. They sleep in tents, eat at field kitchens, operated by other PMI volunteers, all leaving families and jobs behind. They tell me they want and need to help. Some come from Aceh and say they want to repay the kindness shown to them after the tsunami. Others come because they are part of the Indonesian family. They know that if they were the victims of disaster that volunteers from West Sumatra would come to help them. The International Red Cross Red Crescent Movement is all about unity. It’s nice to see it in action here.
Survivors: I cannot get over how resilient and resourceful people are. Although hoping for help, they are not waiting for it to arrive before trying to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives. Climbing over the crumbled walls of their homes, salvaging what they can reuse. Just so matter of fact about it all. 31 year old Yuhendri lost his wife during the quake when she ran back into the house to save their six month old son. As he receives a food package from the Turkish Red Crescent, he talks about his love for her, and her love of life. He doesn’t cry, just says he has to move on, that he has no other choice. Then there’s 28 year old Somad. I meet him while his head bandages are being changed by volunteers from the PMI Medical Action Team. He was electrocuted during the quake and suffered pretty serious burns. He is able to laugh with the nursing staff. “What else can I do but accept it?” he asks me. These are strong people, and I am learning much from them.