Zainal’s story: “I feel safer in my new house”

Published: 23 February 2009 0:00 CET

Megan Rowling, British Red Cross in Indonesia This is the last of a series of nine profiles/case studies, looking at how Red Cross Red Crescent has helped people to rebuild their own lives after the tsunami in Indonesia.

“I am 60 years old and I have only experienced one tsunami like the 26 December 2004 one," says fisherman Zainal Abidin. When the giant waves hit Pulo Breuh island off the northern tip of Aceh province, he was working on a boat near the beach collecting coral for building.

He survived by swimming in the water for half an hour, but his colleague did not. The family also lost a granddaughter and their maid.

Zainal’s wife Saribanun, 47, was out collecting grass for her handicrafts when she saw the water coming and ran away to higher ground. But the family’s house in Seurapong village was destroyed.


When the British Red Cross began building houses in the nearby village of Teunom Baru, where Zainal’s family relocated after the disaster, people were offered a choice of design: a concrete-brick house or a traditional-style wood-frame house, both on stilts. Zainal opted for the second.

“I chose this house because I am afraid of another earthquake and tsunami,” he says. “I am happier in this house, and it’s cooler too.”

All of the 2,200 houses built by the Red Cross Red Crescent in the tsunami-affected area of Indonesia are built to withstand a magnitude 6 quake, and should protect people inside up to magnitude 7. But tsunami survivors remain anxious about the possibility of another disaster.


“We are afraid of living in a brick house because of earthquakes, but we feel safer in this wooden stilt house because it doesn’t shake when there’s an earthquake,” says Zainal.

Zainal also lost his boat in the tsunami. With a cash grant from the Red Cross Red Crescent, he set up a small shop selling household items in a wooden shed in the garden. After two years, he used the profits to buy another boat.

With the wisdom of someone who’s been fishing since he was a child, Zainal says it has become harder to make a living from his trade since the tsunami. “Now there are more people doing the same activity, because they have been given boats,” he says.