Two Indonesian girls wearing colourful clothes
Although now over 5 years ago, the damage caused by the Asian tsunami has not been forgotten. This is a touching story about how a mother and her child are coping five years on, and how SOS Children is helping in the area:
The village of Gampong Cot on the south coast of the Indonesian province of Aceh was almost completely destroyed by the tsunami on 26 December 2004. Before the disaster, over 600 people lived in the village. Now there are only about 350 inhabitants and many of them are newcomers. More than 75 % of the original population died in the flooding. Ibu Sarjani and her little daughter Putri are among the few survivors.
Even today Ibu is unable to speak about what happened five years ago on 26 December and about the time after, the hardest time of her life. Only Yudi, the director of the SOS Children's Village in the neighbouring city of Meulaboh, and Rafi, the village head of Gampong Cot, talk about her experiences. Ibu talks about her everyday life and about Putri, her five-year-old daughter whom she holds in her arms and who has just recovered from chicken pox.
Ibu still fears the sea. She and her family used to live very close to the sea but the new house which Ibu and Putri moved into in May 2006 is at a safer distance from the coast. It is one of 132 new family houses which SOS Children's Villages Indonesia built in the village of Gampong Cot in the district of Meulaboh after the tsunami. The day the big flood reached land Ibu Sarjani, who was then heavily pregnant, was cleaning her little wooden cottage. At one point she looked outside and saw that the sea was different to usual - it was alarmingly high. Ibu started to run inland as she thought that her son and daughter were safe with her husband Adnan. When she reached the village mosque she realised that she could no longer escape the water and climbed into a tree from which she could get onto the roof of the mosque. When the flood waves came at full force the water almost reached the roof. Then it slowly went back down to one and a half metres. Ibu spent hours on her island of safety and then, all of a sudden, her contractions started. She gave birth to a healthy baby girl, right there on top of the mosque.
Towards the evening the water had gone. Ibu put her newborn baby into a plastic carrier bag which fishermen usually use for their catch and, passing through the village which had been completely destroyed, set out for the village hospital. Late at night she found her husband but their children were not with him. They had both died in the flooding. Ibu and Adnan called their newborn daughter Putri Sunami Irayana. In the local language of Aceh "Putri" means girl and "Irayana" means big wave. Putri's father Adnan died more than two years after the tsunami. He died from a serious infection which he had probably contracted by drinking contaminated water on the day of the disaster.
Before Adnan's death the family were however able to spend a couple of months in their new house and they were given clothes and other kinds of support. They had previously lived in a provisional home under plastic covers. The new house, just like all the other modest family houses that SOS Children's Villages has built in Gampong Cot, has a blue roof, a small covered terrace and a garden which is big enough to grow vegetables and fruit. Ibu and Putri seem to be managing well with their life in their nice new home at a safe distance from the sea. Occasionally the past casts its shade on their gestures or faces.
Putri likes to race around the house on her pink plastic scooter and she loves to draw. Together with eleven other children she attends the local kindergarten where her mother works. Usually she is a happy little girl but when Yudi says goodbye she gets sad. She adores the director of SOS Children's Village Meulaboh, who regularly drops by to see how mother and daughter are.
Before the tsunami, nobody in Gampong Cot knew about SOS Children's Villages. But today even people from the city of Banda Aceh come to visit the village. They want to see the new houses which have been built according to high quality standards and they are interested in the other SOS social programmes. SOS Children's Villages has built an SOS Social Centre, the "Hermann Gmeiner House", which houses a kindergarten and a primary school. Apart from that, families receive support in generating an income, mainly by producing handicrafts. They also receive support and counselling on education and health issues and other problems many families have to deal with.
Altogether, about 5,400 children in the Meulaboh district benefit from the SOS family strengthening programmes. The port of Meulaboh, which was also severely damaged by the tsunami, has an SOS Children's Village. Many of the children who live there lost their families in the flooding. Others are there because their families broke up as a consequence of either the disaster or of the thirty-year conflict which has almost ruined the province of Aceh. The pasts of the SOS mothers in Meulaboh are similar to those of the children they care for. Most of them lost their husband, their children or even all of them in the flooding. Some of the women are still unable to talk about what happened. They speak about their everyday life with the children with whom they have embarked on the challenge of building a new family.