As soon as the first 45-foot wave of the 26 December 2004 tsunami hit their village of Lampuuk in Sumatra, Indonesia, two brothers, ages 11 and 14, started running toward a nearby mountain. By the time the third wave reached the shore, they had reached high ground. The pair spent the next two nights in a tree, scared and alone.
When the boys finally mustered the courage to climb down and go home, there was no home left to go to. Their parents and siblings had been swept away, along with about 6,500 others from their 7,000-person village.
Now, Lampuuk survivors are slowly rebuilding their community, thanks in part to the financial support and helping hands of generous Rotarians like Bob Tomko. After hearing about the disaster, Tomko, a member of the Rotary Club of Bishop, Calif., USA, used his connections as a travel wholesaler to quickly establish communication with Indonesia. His club and others in the Eastern High Sierra region of California raised the bulk of their tsunami relief fund though a one-hour telethon broadcast on TV and radio in January.
In early February Tomko set off for Lampuuk along with three other Californians: Wally Hofmann, 2004-05 president of the Rotary Club of Mammoth Lakes; Hofmann's father, Walter; and Bishop Rotarian Joanne Parsons. With help from District 3400 (Indonesia), the U.S. Rotarians set up sanitation and clean-water systems. They also donated necessities, including antibiotics, mosquito repellent, and school uniforms for tsunami victims living in refugee camps.
"These people were just shellshocked and traumatized," says Wally Hofmann. "Everyone, whether they were rich or poor before, is now poor."
Since the Rotarians returned to California, members of the Bishop and Mammoth Lakes clubs have collected about US$35,000 for victims in Sumatra. Wally Hofmann says Rotarians in his district hope to raise $100,000 by the time he returns to Indonesia later this year. Funds will be divided between efforts to establish a medical clinic and build schools in Banda Aceh, a city in Sumatra devastated by the tsunami.
"We're not just a relief effort," Wally Hofmann says. "We're in it for the long haul. It's going to take 20 years to get that area back to where it was."
Here's what some Rotarians are doing to help others affected by the tsunami:
- With support from District 1100 (western England and Wales), District 3150 (part of Andhra Pradesh) has helped local fishermen reclaim their livelihoods by providing them with 180 large wooden and 15 fiber boats. Immediately after the tsunami, District 3150 Rotarians provided food, blankets, and counseling services to victims. They are now working with the local government to rebuild houses near the coast.
- Rotary clubs in District 3230 (part of Tamil Nadu) have given fishermen 30 boats inscribed with the Rotary gearwheel emblem. Just after the disaster, Rotarians in India's Nagapattinam District distributed 150 ShelterBoxes, each stocked with 10 sleeping bags, a tent, water, tools, and cooking supplies. [ShelterBox, a Rotarian-backed organization, ships durable boxes containing tents, sleeping bags, and equipment to disaster areas.]
- Orphans in Banda Aceh now have a safe place to sleep and caring adults to look after them, thanks to the efforts of the Rotary clubs of Huntington and Northport, New York, USA. Through Orphans International Worldwide, the clubs provided enough funds to build and staff an orphanage. The facility opened in mid-April. Since then Rotarians have pledged continued support. They will also help fund new orphanages nearby for the estimated 100,000 children in Indonesia left homeless by the tsunami.
- Because Rotary clubs in District 1470 (part of Denmark; Greenland) had been working to clear land mines in northeast Sri Lanka before the tsunami struck, Copenhagen-area Rotarians already had the connections needed to quickly lend support. They began relief efforts by raising 1 million Danish kroner (about US$173,000). With District 3220 (Sri Lanka), Rotary Denmark is committed to rebuilding three schools in the region they have been working to de-mine. The project has inspired Rotary clubs in Australia, England, New Zealand, and the United States to pledge support to school reconstruction projects in Sri Lanka.
- District 5150 Governor Eric Shapira and Pablo Castro Jr., a member of the Rotary Club of Mission San Rafael, Calif., USA, delivered and helped install 40 water purification units donated by California districts 5150 and 5170 in Sri Lanka in February. Since then District 5170 has purchased more sanitation systems, and District 5150 hopes to rebuild 40 houses in the small village of Seenigama.
- The Rotary Club of Washim, India, wasn't formally installed until 15 May 2005, but some members got an early start on service. They have been helping tsunami victims on the eastern coast of Sri Lanka since March, when four Rotarians joined a team of doctors that provided nutritional aid and treated respiratory diseases resulting from ingesting unclean water. Their work benefited nearly 1,000 patients.
- Richard Whittaker, a member of the Rotary Club of Pottstown, Pa., USA, put his skills as an orthopedic surgeon to use on tsunami-devastated Phuket Island. As part of a delegation representing the World Surgical Foundation, Whittaker scrubbed in on daily surgeries, giving exhausted local doctors much-needed time off.
- Before he died in waves off the coast of Phi Phi Island in southern Thailand, Ben Abels was a prospective member of the Rotary Club of Evanston Lighthouse, Evanston, Ill., USA. So when his family established a tsunami relief fund in his memory, they chose to benefit The Rotary Foundation of RI. So far, the Donor Advised Fund established in memory of Abels has brought in more than US$100,000. Family members have directed the Foundation to distribute $25,000 each to the tsunami relief funds of Save the Children and Habitat for Humanity.
This article originally appeared in the August 2005 issue of The Rotarian.