by Errol Duck-Chong
BEFORE 26 December 2004, few people would have heard of the Indonesian province of Aceh. Yet on the day that ‘tsunami’ entered many people’s vocabulary, Aceh became a household name as news of its almost total devastation spread round the world.
Today Aceh is beginning to be associated with more positive aspects – reconstruction is giving a physical demonstration that the world saw what Aceh had gone through and wanted to do something to help. This reconstruction is why I went to Indonesia.
The recipient of a new home shares her joy with Lieut-Colonel Helen StarrettI had been asked to make a photographic report of the dedication of 500 homes constructed by The Salvation Army. This latest project brings to 1,250 the total number of houses built in Aceh for tsunami victims.
After flying from Sydney, Australia, to Medan, Indonesia, I met Lieut-Colonel Dan Starrett (Executive Director of SAWSO – Salvation Army World Services Organisation) and Lieut-Colonel Helen Starrett (Director of Special Projects, SAWSO). With them was Major George Polarek (Assistant to the Executive Director).
Two days were spent checking arrangements for our visit. This provided opportunity for visits to beautiful Lake Toba, and also to the two Salvation Army children’s homes in Medan where a total of 150 girls and boys are accommodated. It was beautiful to see warmth and love as Lieut-Colonel Helen Starrett distributed sweets to the children. Observing their response was an equal joy.
Next day we made our way to the airport for our chartered flight. Travelling with the leadership team in a 12-seater MAF (Missionary Aviation Fellowship) aircraft meant there were weight limitations, so each of us was weighed and then allocated seats to balance the aircraft for our one-hour flight.
Arriving in Nagan Raya, we were greeted by traditionally and colourfully dressed women bearing garlands for the official guests. With sirens blaring, a police escort provided support as our convoy made its way to the Bupati’s (Regent) office for the official welcome. The police then led us to Leuhan, the site of the newest homes, 10 kilometres from the coast. Seven-and-a-half hectares of land were provided in the jungle and The Salvation Army purchased the rest of the 20 hectares which have now been cleared. For more than three years the people have been living in barracks, waiting and hoping for the promised homes. Today their dream was coming true.
Lieut-Colonel Starrett is shown round this woman’s new homeAs the official party walked to the opening ceremony, they were welcomed by a traditional group of musicians and dancers. The guests – including recipients of the homes – sat under brightly coloured marquees, protected from the scorching sun as they listened to the dedication ceremony.
Representative speakers expressed their thanks and well wishes. Commissioner Barry Pobjie (International Secretary for South Pacific and East Asia, International Headquarters) and Commissioner Basuki Kartodarsono (Territorial Commander, Indonesia) represented The Salvation Army, while the donors were represented by Lieut-Colonel Dan Starrett and Karen Ng (Business Manager for The Salvation Army’s Hong Kong and Macau Command).
A beautiful and significant gesture was the presentation of gifts of rice and a tree to representative speakers. Each new home-owner received similar gifts.
God’s name was honoured and uplifted during the dedication ceremony, and was central in the message given by Commissioner Pobjie.
Aceh is predominantly Muslim, and it was moving to see the response of the local people to the amazing work that has been funded on their behalf.
Much is still needed to help the recipients to be more connected to nearby communities and also to be more self-supporting. The Salvation Army is aware of these needs and is planning strategies to assist.
The houses are relatively small – each has a bedroom, living room, bathroom and kitchen – but they all have running water and electricity. They are certainly more than adequate for the people who lost everything.
On the return to the airport for the flight to Medan we visited the coast. We had witnessed scenes of happiness and joy and perhaps we had forgotten the horror of the tsunami. When we reached the coast, however, we could no longer escape the reality of the terror and the devastation of Aceh because at the edge of the land was a giant tower, 30 metres (100 feet) high, indicating the height of the tidal wave which brought such devastation and forever changed the lives of those who remain.
Aceh will be associated with great suffering and massive devastation for many years but we saw signs that people are returning to their lives and trying to start again.
There is hope – for there is God!
Some of the new houses
Visiting the 30-metre tower on the Aceh coast that demonstrates the height of the tsunami
A father and daughter wait to move into their new home
Representative house-recipients with their gifts of rice and trees
Errol Duck-Chong is voluntary chaplain at The Salvation Army’s William Booth House in Sydney, Australia