Taking a break from studies to help humanity

Published: 28 January 2005 0:00 CET

Yoshi Shimizu

Sitting in the yard of the Indonesian Red Cross and International Federation’s offices are 16 students.

They have come from different parts of Indonesia: Palang, East Java, Jakarta and Sulawesi. Few have set foot in Banda Aceh before.

They are trained SATGANA volunteers. SATGANA is the abbreviation for the Disaster Preparedness Team, a key element in the Indonesian Red Cross (PMI) response to the devastating tsunami that claimed over 200,000 lives.

What they have seen during the past few weeks exceeds anything they have seen before or could have expected. “It is totally beyond everything you could imagine,” says 20-year-old psychology student Aris Budiman, sitting on the warehouse floor in his sarong.

On a daily basis, he says, he and his fellow PMI volunteers are confronted with people who survived the tsunami and are now suffering from their traumatic experiences.

On the holiday of the Hari Raya Idul Adha on Friday January, 21 most people were off work, but not the PMI volunteers. The teams worked in shifts allowing them to adhere to the call for prayers.

Seven other team members soon join us, all in their twenties. There is Setiawan, who is studying engineering, Yuan who wants to become a teacher and Muji, the only woman and a would-be accountant. Akhmad is into statistics, Mirza from Jakarta studies management and Otgman, like Setiawan, an engineering student.

And there is also Hamza, who is studying law. “I am all stressed out,” he says, and they all laugh.

They are joking about how nice it is having a time off from their studies. But they all say that the main reason for them being there is that they are devoted to the Red Cross work.

The teams come to Banda Aceh to work for three weeks. After that they go home and another team takes over. This team arrived on January, 10.

There are several teams working at the same time and they all perform different tasks. They take turns to be on stand by for handing out relief goods at any time of the day or to go out in the morning to the most affected areas to collect bodies.

Few had have ever seen a dead body before. The day before, this team had collected 106 bodies.

“The first day we did it was very difficult. I could never in my dreams have imagined anything like this. The first night I was still collecting bodies in my dreams,” says Aris Budman.

All the PMI (Palang Merah Indonesia) volunteers have access to psychological counselling, and they use it, he says. They also share their thoughts with the other team members as well.

But in spite of the challenges they are confronted with they would not hesitate to do it all over again. “We feel that what we are doing here is very important even when we are sometimes confronted with difficult things,” they agree.