News Archives

Survivors tell of life before, life after tsunami

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Michelle R. Scott, UMCOR

Jamil of Banda Aceh, Indonesia, survived the tsunami by hanging on to a door floating in the water.

June 15, 2006

By Michelle R. Scott*

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (UMNS) — “Before the tsunami . . . I was a fisherman . . . I had a house . . . I had a son who spoke English . . . I had five grandchildren.”

“Before the tsunami” is a phrase often on the lips of survivors. Areas full of life before the Dec. 26, 2004 tsunami are now only empty spaces—open fields speckled with house foundations wiped clean.

Two Indonesia staff members for the United Methodist Committee on Relief drive me to see the damage in Banda Aceh this spring. Time has done little to heal the gaping wounds the sea cut across this city and throughout the province.

As we near the sea, Ambiya, UMCOR’s procurement officer in Banda Aceh, points to the left side of the road where I see an open field. “That was my mother’s village,” he says.

We drive further and he points to the right, where the land is filled with stagnant water and rubble. The shell of one large concrete house stands. “That was my father’s village.” Then he points to a driveway leading to an empty lot. “That was my house.”

Everyone who lives here has a story to tell—a story of survival and loss, of bravery and brokenness. They are sacred tales that represent the rending of many lives in two: life before the tsunami, and life after.

A Better Future

UMCOR is working with survivors to make their lives after the tsunami better. In Banda Aceh, the agency is reaching out to survivors still living in barracks-style temporary shelters because they have no where else to go.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

The skeleton of a house stands in the wake of the Dec. 26, 2004, tsunami.

UMCOR workers are assisting with 100 families living in two of these temporary living centers, helping them make plans for a future. Most people already know what they need to do -- they need income and a place to live. Some have specific ideas of how they want to go about this. They just need a hand up to make their plans a reality.

The agency also is helping people like Rima who mistook the sound of the tsunami approaching her village for thunder and its dark appearance rising above the trees for a storm cloud. When she and her husband realized what they were seeing was nothing as ordinary as a quick-moving storm, they grabbed their two small children and ran.

They didn’t get far before the tsunami caught up with them. The family was separated in the roiling waves. Four days later, Rima’s relatives found her and brought her to their home where she met up with her husband and oldest child. Their youngest child was never found.

Rima and her family now reside in a temporary living center just outside of Banda Aceh. Their house was completely destroyed and the little work Rima’s husband can find barely covers their living expenses.

They want to move out of the barracks and UMCOR is providing livelihood training and assistance that will lead to more income for the family. UMCOR is also working to find permanent housing solutions for these displaced families.

The staff at the Banda Aceh office, like UMCOR’s offices throughout Indonesia, is made up mostly of fellow Indonesians. Many of them experienced personal loss when the tsunami roared ashore. They have a personal commitment to helping survivors to not only have what they need for today, but to build a new future.

More information on the work in Indonesia and other parts of the world can be found at, the UMCOR Web site.

*Scott, an UMCOR staff member in New York, visited Indonesia this spring.

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

Video Story

Eyewitness To Tragedy: Images of the tsunamis aftermath

Related Articles

Tsunami survivor tells of ordeal

After tsunami, UMCOR builds houses, livelihoods in Indonesia

Tsunami recovery includes school replacement

UMCOR, partners respond to Java quake survivor

Related Articles


ACT: Indonesia

Tsunami Headlines