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A decade after 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami

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Hope abounds for families who increased their income or gained dignity in life; young people can dream of fulfilling their ambitions

BANGKOK (19 December 2014) - The 26 December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami was known as one of the most devastating disasters of recent times. The tsunami was caused by a 9-magnitude undersea earthquake that struck off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia. More than 230,000 died and 1.7 million people were displaced as the tsunami affected more than a dozen countries from Thailand to Madagascar.

Habitat for Humanity worked in the most affected countries of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand, helping about 25,000 families to rebuild their homes and hope. Habitat focused on permanent housing solutions, using community-based strategies. In India, Habitat started a pilot program to help tens of thousands of families prepare for disasters and reduce the risk of disasters.

A decade after the disaster, survivors such as Dharumar Vinayagam and Govindasamy Sundaramurthy from India can testify to positive changes in their lives. Both men increased their income after receiving a Habitat home. In the case of Vinayagam, 41, a decent home also opened the door to marriage. “Thanks to the new house, I got married. Even though I am disabled, I have always wanted to live like a normal person. It was Habitat that instilled the hope in me that I could lead a normal life.”

He started a home-based tailoring business with a sewing machine donated by another non-governmental organization. “With a tailoring business of my own, I have social status and I am living with dignity and pride.”

Vinayagam lives in the coastal village of Koonimedu Kuppam in Kancheepuram district, Tamil Nadu state in southern India. When the tsunami hit, Vinayagam – who had polio – had to be carried out of his mud hut to a safe spot by his brother. He stayed for several months at a refugee camp along with more than 1,000 people before he received a new house built by Habitat for Humanity India.

After they were married, Vinayagam’s wife Indirani started learning sewing skills from him. At first, she could only sew buttons but she was later able to make women’s clothing. The couple earns about 200 rupees (about US$3.20) a day, over six times the amount of what Vinayagam used to earn as a daily wage laborer.

Indirani said it is the couple’s dream to buy more sewing machines, employ local young people in need of a job, and expand their business.

Being able to offer work to other families in his community is something that Govindasamy Sundaramurthy can be proud of. Sundaramurthy, 55, lives in Killai village, Chidambaram, Cuddalore district, Tamil Nadu state, southern India. He was shattered when his home and livestock were destroyed in the tsunami. “Habitat’s assistance encouraged my family and I to move forward. They provided us with a new hope-filled future, by providing safe and decent shelter,” he said.

With a permanent home, Sundaramurthy regained his confidence. He bought a small boat after the 2004 disaster. Along with nets of different sizes, he was able to fish in the sea and in the Kodilam river when the seas got rough. “I could borrow money to buy nets, a motor engine, and other fishing equipment. The oil dealers trust me and give diesel on a credit basis regularly. Now, I have a motorized boat and I am giving employment to 10 families in my village.”

Over in Aceh, Indonesia, which was the worst-affected by the tsunami, a similar note of hope is registered. Agus Wardani, his wife Liza and two children live in Pante Teungoh village, Sigli sub-district, Pidie district. Their son Aditya Azhar, 13 has no memory of the tsunami while daughter Nayla Zaskia, 8, was born after the disaster. In response to their children’s question of “what is a tsunami like?”, Agus, 30, and Liza, 28, would tell the story of how they survived. The couple’s hope is that their children would never have to experience a tsunami.

Agus and Liza work hard to support their family. The couple makes cakes and donuts at home and take the pastries to sell at the central market. Three years ago, Liza started making handbags after learning the skill from a friend. She takes up to three days to make a handbag and can earn more than 100,000 Indonesian rupiah (US$8).

Agus’ construction skills came in handy when he made several home improvements about three years after his family moved in. He constructed a patio and a kitchen, laid ceramic floor tiles, and strengthened the windows with metallic grilles, among other works.

In the same village, the younger generation in Rusli Raden’s household is inspired by his example of contributing to the community. His extended family of 11 continues to live in the same house that Habitat for Humanity Indonesia built a decade ago. Rusli, 67, helped in Habitat’s reconstruction when he provided data on the number of tsunami-affected families, the death toll, and the need for new houses. These days, he conducts Islamic religious classes, organizes community gatherings, counsels and mediates between neighbors.

His daughter Yusniar wants to study medicine and return to her village to work as a doctor. Rusli’s granddaughter, Nural Andhika Putri, sets her sight on becoming a policewoman in order to be a role model to other women.

Whether in India or Indonesia, a permanent home rebuilt after a disaster has enabled families to have a new lease of life.

“Habitat instilled hope when our family was stranded – homeless and ‘hope-less’. They gave us the courage to face the future. Today, I am really proud to say that I own a concrete house and I have educated, healthy children and grandchildren,” said Govindasamy Sundaramurthy.