ALY-KHAN RAJANI, 25, CARE Canada progam manager for Southeast Asia, in Banda Aceh, Indonesia
“CARE’S guesthouse is full of people-there are about 30 sleeping in every corner of a three-bedroom house. Within a few hours of arriving, I was out in the field. It was a horrific scene. You’re in the middle of the city, but it looks as if no one could ever have lived there. All you have is rubble everywhere. There were some little signs of life, like a girl’s backpack, a woman’s shoe or a photocopy of an identity document, with a photo and signature.
What really brought it home was seeing body bags-more like garbage bags-on the
side of the road. People were being dug up by volunteers trying to give them a dignified ending. With tears running down my face, I watched about six university students carrying a body on a homemade gurney. They had made a makeshift walkway with a piece of plywood to get over the water. Other volunteers would walk along the road, open the bags to take a photograph of the face and then close them up again. A truck would come by, almost like picking up garbage-it was quite sickening. They would be buried in a mass grave. The stench of death is in the air. I was told once that the smell never leaves your nostrils, and truly I don’t think I’ll be the same again.
I spoke to a woman whose husband and
daughter had died. She was left with two children, and she came to ask us for food, and told us that her children didn’t eat regularly, even before the disaster. This is an area in which poverty already existed. I can’t fathom what it would be like to be that woman. But because of our food distribution her children will have regular meals for a month. It brought it to life that what we do matters. That’s a powerful thing. The biggest challenge is the emotional one. It was much more difficult than I would have imagined.
It’s something you can’t control. You see these things, but you’re expected to be professional and deliver. Also, people are
working around the clock-l’ve slept three hours a night for the past 10 days-and eating packaged noodles. But you keep going because people are dying." KARIN MARLEY
ROD VOLWAY, 35, CARE Canada program manager for the emergency response team, in Banda Aceh
“Even five kilometres inland there was a boat,
which just astounded me. You could see the water markings beyond the first and even sometimes beyond the second floors of buildings. As we got closer to the coast on the north side of Banda Aceh, the landscape was empty. I’d assumed from the amount of debris that there had been a few houses, but someone told me it was actually a highly populated area. It was just decimated. One of the things that really shook me was that there wasn’t any debris-it has been washed away.
As soon as I got here on Jan. 2, we started discussions with the UN on how to distribute food. The aid organizations are working very well together. It’s quite amazing. The attitude has been, quite frankly, ‘Get
this out to the people and feed them and we’ll sort out the contracts and all that other nonsense later on.’
People here are still shocked-nobody really has a take on it. Quite a while ago, the death toll estimates stopped because they’re just too hard to understand. On the other hand, people are very resilient. Markets have opened up. Last Sunday we drove through the bazaar where people were selling fruits and vegetables. We’ve talked to people in the camps here who had lived on islands to the north or west. They said they don’t want to go back. At first I asked why. But most of these people had lost absolutely everything and, as a result, would be rebuilding from scratch. So they’ve decided that they’d rather try setting up a new life somewhere else.”
51, program director (international headquarters) for Foster Parents Plan, in Jakarta, Indonesia
“A lot of the challenge for this disaster is coordination. I have been attending briefings from the UN to the donor community, meetings with government officials, people from UNICEF, to divide up the work, and meetings with other NGOs to see how we can support one another. There has been a bit of a scramble, but we had to start doing things right away.
One problem we’ve faced is that some areas are completely wiped out. We didn’t even know how badly because there was no one to tell us. I was speaking today with an old friend who is working very hard in Aceh, but her whole home community just doesn’t exist anymore. In her extended family, she figures she has lost about 20 people. She is the sort of person
who would be very key in this situation, but she’s somewhat distraught. It’s only bit by bit that we’re getting the full picture. I mean, there are 100,000 dead. What that means is, we have counted 100,000 bodies. How many more have been washed out to sea?
On the one hand, it’s a luxury, being at a distance. I can go to an air-conditioned meeting and discuss charts and numbers. But on the other hand, it’s frustrating to not be right there. I realize that’s almost an immature feeling, but there’s always a part of you that wishes you could actually help directly. I’ve spent seven years of my life in Indonesia; I have an extraordinarily deep affection for the people of this country. I think I’m not all that different from a lot of Canadians who are probably feeling the same sense of, ‘What can Ido?”’
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