News Archives

Tsunami-battered Aceh Province searches for security, hope

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
Photo by Chris Herlinger, Church World Service

Marzuki Arsyad of Banda Aceh, Indonesia, lost 13 family members in the tsunami.
Dec. 19, 2005

By Chris Herlinger*

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (UMNS) — It is difficult for an outsider visiting Banda Aceh not to be drawn to the ocean.

Not to swim. Nor to fish. But merely to look and marvel at the ocean’s destructive power.

On Banda Aceh’s coastline, neighborhoods like Kampung Mulia and Lampaseh Kota took the full brunt of last December’s tsunami. The surviving residents, most still living in tents and awaiting completed housing, still struggle with memories of an accursed day.

They include Afifuddin, 26, an information technology graduate who acts as a community representative for Lampaseh Kota. The once-vibrant neighborhood, now laid waste, is recovering from an almost indescribable loss of life: from a population of 5,000, the urban village now has about 1,000 residents.

Afifuddin lost a grandmother, nephews, nieces, a brother and a sister Dec. 26. He speaks of memories of that day — of panic, confusion, pandemonium — quietly, almost dispassionately. He is focused on the future and not the past, but that is not always easy: many around him are still traumatized, he said.

Church World Service provided basic relief items to his neighborhood — CWS “Gift of the Heart” Health Kits, tents, mattresses — and those have proven valuable in what has been a difficult year.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
Photo by Chris Herlinger, Church World Service

An Indonesian girl participates in a Church World Service-sponsored trauma assistance program.
Last spring, the United Methodist Committee on Relief allocated $1.5 million to help fund recovery projects in Indonesia with Church World Service, a longtime partner, and contributed $1.5 million to the appeal of Action by Churches Together for Indonesia. Church World Service is the lead implementing organization for that appeal.

Not far from Lampaseh Kota stands another urban village, Kampung Mulia — “noble village” in Indonesian — and also a recipient of CWS assistance.

It is home to Marzuki Arsyad, a one-time pedicab driver and part-time fisherman. Arsyad’s immediate family fared better than many in his neighborhood. His wife, a physics teacher, works in another city and was not in Banda Aceh the day the tsunami hit. But he still lost brothers, sisters and other family — 13 in all.

The memories of the day refuse to lay dormant. “We were like people losing our minds. We saw these bodies — women, children, older people — all around us, and we couldn’t do anything.”

Small steps

Staying determined and busy has helped ease a bit of the trauma. Like Afifuddin, Arsyad is focused on the future and believes Aceh’s full recovery depends on developing the region’s economic base.

Education and easing trauma also have key roles, as Siti Mariam Nuzuriah quietly but determinedly believes. Nuzuriah is a Church World Service program officer who helps coordinate a trauma program for children in Krueng Kala village, southwest of Banda Aceh, the site of a resettlement program for internally displaced persons affected by the tsunami.

The program has noticeably helped the children, Nuzuriah said. Once afraid of noises that suggested the roar of the tsunami — even the sounds of helicopters sent the children cowering in fear — the young people are now engaged, funny, and “not afraid to express their emotions.”

Those are small steps, to be sure, in what remains a long process of recovery. Much housing has yet to be built, and Church World Service and its partners are actively involved in that work. Aceh itself is recovering from a double crisis caused not only by the tsunami but by a 30-year civil conflict that only recently ended.

The tsunami and recovery efforts are believed to have caused the Indonesian government and rebels of the Free Aceh Movement to recognize the need to end a war that, prior to this year, showed no signs of abating.

That is why, as recovery efforts continue and the anniversary of the Dec. 26 tsunami approaches, the word “security” has particular poignancy in Aceh.

“This is not just about building homes,” said CWS staffer Ejodia Kakunsi, “but building for the future.”

*Herlinger is information officer for the Church World Service Emergency Response Program. He visited Aceh Province in November.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or

Related Articles
Day after day, Methodist pastor assists fellow Sri Lankans
Indonesia’s tsunami recovery comes with complications
UMCOR continues tsunami work in Sri Lanka, other nations
A year later, tsunami relief efforts are just beginning
Indonesia to increase flights to Aceh
Thai tsunami anniversary draws flak
Tsunami Update
UNICEF: Tsunami anniversary
UMCOR: South Asia Emergency
CWS: Tsunami Recovery