A Salvation Army medical team treats a leg wound
Precautions need to be taken to avoid the spread of disease
Salvation Army doctors and nurses offer advice and, where available, dispense medication
Major Ron Lee spent two weeks in Indonesia, supporting the Salvation Army relief team. At the time of writing he was the relief coordinator in Sri Lanka
A Spirit of Cooperation
by Major Ron Lee with photos by Rudi Tinga
The people of Indonesia are extremely resilient – and they have needed to be – but their courage and adaptability have been matched by The Salvation Army’s flexibility and willingness to help.
After the devastating tsunami at the end of 2004 the local Salvation Army was quickly in the thick of things, providing quick-reaction medical teams. The work has been complicated by the fact that some of the worst-hit regions have been areas of conflict. The Aceh province, for instance, has been an area of turmoil that has sought autonomy from Indonesia for some time.
The Indonesian military maintains a strong presence in the province and The Salvation Army’s willingness to cooperate with the military and the local authorities means its work has progressed steadily, with partnerships being formed with the military, which can help with security and supplies, and the government.
Each Salvation Army medical team consists of an officer team leader, two or three nurses, a doctor, five or six support staff and a driver. One of the teams is based in the North Sumatran town of Meulaboh, just south of Banda Aceh, which was highlighted in the media as one of the places worst hit by the disaster. In some towns and villages, four out of five people lost their lives to the tsunami.
The team operates a field clinic in the middle of a displaced persons camp consisting of tents and wooden platform dwellings. There are around 3,600 people in the camp, which is set up on a very wet, swampy area.
The clinic comprises a tent with four cots. Medicines are stacked against one wall.
When the centre is not manned by Salvation Army staff, the military guards the medicines by sleeping in the clinic at night. Soon after medical teams were dispatched, medicines and all needed local equipment were provided by the military. An ambulance enables the team to transfer seriously injured or ill people to the nearest hospital and is used as transport for team members when needed.
The hospital in the area lost most of its equipment and staff in the disaster but Salvation Army hospitals in Indonesia have provided some supplies. In the evening the team also holds an open clinic at an office in a nearby village.
The area is predominantly Muslim, but that has not hindered the acceptance of a Christian church-based team. During my visit to the programme in mid-February, the team doctor was a Muslim woman who dressed as her culture dictates but happily wore a Salvation Army emergency team vest on top, just like the rest of the team. She was a vital part of the team’s ministry.
Even in these early days following the disaster, preparations are in place for longer-term solutions. Every afternoon some of the team hold a children’s activity time in the clinic tent and during my visit there were always children around enjoying the attention of the staff. The Salvation Army has leased two homes for the project and plans are under way to build some new houses in cooperation with the local government and military authority.
The people need all the help they can get to start their lives anew, from practical, material aid to counselling. We were being shown a mass grave site in Meulaboh and saw an old man standing on a bare concrete slab. One of the team members went over to speak to him and was told: ‘I am standing on what is left of one of my son’s house. I lost eight children and 18 grandchildren in a moment.’ The old man’s tragic story is repeated again and again across the region.
The other area of service for the Indonesia Territory is on the island of Nias. The Salvation Army already has a few corps and outposts in the southern region of the island but had not made inroads into the northern region, which was devastated by the tsunami.
As in Aceh, the first response was to send a medical team, which is still at work in the area – operating from the rented village chief’s house. Plans are in progress to provide temporary housing for people living in a school. As resources become available, The Salvation Army hopes to rebuild some homes, repair a damaged medical clinic and establish long-term programmes in a new area of ministry.