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Islamic Relief

Indonesia/People and Projects

(16 January 2008)
Michael Eccles, Indonesia desk officer at Islamic Relief (IR) headquarters, recently returned from a trip to the country, three years after the devastation caused by the Boxing Day tsunami. Here he tells us what stage things are at and why your help is still needed. In the immediate aftermath of the tsunami the focus was on providing food, water, shelter and medical aid.

What is IR doing now, three years on?

The post-tsunami reconstruction work will be mostly finished in June. This project is using the £2.2 million provided to IR by the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) in 2007 and is focused on rebuilding, along with some training and other work helping people with their incomes.

We also have a livelihoods programme with the International Development and Relief Foundation (IDRF) which will finish in February. We are providing community training and helping people set up businesses so that they can stand on their own two feet. The training includes things like Microsoft skills, accounting systems, agriculture, animal husbandry and chocolate making.

We are building 50 houses with the help of the Qatar Red Crescent. With UNICEF we are working with non-tsunami affected people; those further in-land. We need to do more with these people. IR donors also sponsor around 900 orphans.

Michael Eccles

Why is it taking so long?

It is just the scale of what happened. It is bigger than anything we have ever done before. There are not enough people to do the building work.

How much longer do you think the country will require our help?

We will remain in the area after the post-tsunami work is completed in June, though some agencies are believed to be preparing to pull-out after this time. Even before the tsunami, Aceh was an undeveloped area and conflicts with the central government had led to a lot of trauma. Schools had been burnt down. People were living with no toilets or clean wells. This requires providing long-term education and not just water.

How are the projects going?

Generally things are going OK. At the moment we are building 250 houses, two schools and seven health clinics, and these are well-underway.

How does the current situation compare to that when you last visited?

The building work is where you see the biggest change; that’s where you notice it most. I was last there in September and so was present on the day work began on one of the housing projects. I saw them laying the strings and putting up the posts. Now many of the houses are nearly finished; people are living in others, they have put fences up and plants and made them their own. I find that really rewarding. One of the clinics which was nearly finished last time I was there was filled with patients this time. It makes you realise that it is worth all the grief!

What are the main challenges you face?

The main problem is the shortage of qualified people. Many construction staff have had to be brought in from other parts of the country. It is one of the least developed areas of Indonesia. The other issue is the weather, which is less predictable than it used to be. There is a rainy season which runs from October-February. We can’t start any new building work during this time because the foundations would just fill with mud.

Is there anything that particularly stood out from your trip?

Something I did this time that I didn’t before was visit some orphan families. I visited two different families, both of whom had lost their homes in the tsunami, and the contrast between the two was interesting.

One family was in a new house. There was almost nothing in it, but you could see what a difference having a home made to the family.

The other family was living in a temporary wooden shed. There were gaps in it, meaning that you could see into the next house, and a moat of water surrounded it. I dread to think of the mosquitoes and potential for malaria. The mother of the family told me that she had approached the local government but had been unable to get on the list for a new house.

The difference between the two families really struck me. One was living in a new home with the security that brings, the other in a temporary wooden shed with no immediate hope of being given a house.

What makes IR’s projects stand out from those of other organisations?

That would have to be the quality of our houses. Beneficiaries always say how nice their new houses are, but in fact everyone seems to be looking up to our houses as being of very high quality. We take a lot longer to build them, checking the quality of the bricks and plaster, etc. When you look at the houses you can see the love that has gone into them.

Much of the initial media interest in the tsunami has faded away now. What would you say to those who assume that the situation is resolved?

I would say that there is still great need in the country and that if you went there you would see that. There are still many people living in temporary shelter, but it is not just about bricks and mortar. People lost parents, children, friends; they are traumatised. We are putting people and communities back together.

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