Indonesia: Aceh park, a symbol of recovery, renewal and healing

by Kai T. Hill and Jullya Vigneshvara

On any given afternoon at the Taman Sari Park in downtown Banda Aceh, Indonesia, the approach of sunset bears little on the tireless energy of children playing.

High-pitched laughter - of children thumping to the ground from jungle gyms and chasing each other through the grass - can be heard from blocks away. The sound lasts into the night as entire families seize the moment to relax, strike up conversations and enjoy reconnections with old friends.

This 300-meter stretch of park, which reopened in March with the help of CRS, is not just a recreational outlet. It's a symbol of rejuvenation and hope.

"It's a public space that symbolizes recovery, renewal and healing in the entire community, and stands as CRS' commitment to rebuilding the many aspects of community in the overall post-tsunami reconstruction process," says Scott Campbell, CRS' director of operations in Aceh.

"It is our hope that Taman Sari will enable the people of Aceh to continue to improve their lives, free themselves from the nightmare of the tsunami and realize their full human potential."

Many here share the common bond of having lost loved ones, their homes and all their possessions to the 2004 tsunami, which hit this area of Indonesia the hardest.

This park and surrounding green space had become a desolate, muddy wasteland after the enormous tidal wave struck the island. But that has been put more easily to the past now as the park, the only one in Banda Aceh, bustles with life.

A Place for Community

"Every day this park is full with people," says Zubir, a park security guard, who maintains an easy smile as he patrols the area, often stopping to greet and help visitors.

"Usually in the late afternoon, after parents come back from work, they take their children here to play while they're relaxing," Zubir continues. His daughter's, a toddler and 5-year-old, also come to the park and are visibly proud seeing their father in uniformed patrol.

Novi, a 25-year-old hospital worker, brings her daughter Fika, 3, to the park on her days off. Keeping a steady watch on their children, Novi and other women engage in topics on children's health, along with other light talk.

"It's good to meet lots of new people," she says. "In my opinion, with the conflicts and tsunami that devastated Aceh, we need to release the burden and start fresh, and one of the means is by socialization with people."

Through its cash-for-work program, CRS began cleaning up the park in the early days and months following the tsunami. "It was a grim, difficult and sad task, associated with death and destruction," recalls Scott.

Rebuilding Neighborhoods

Now more than two years after the disaster, the agency continues its commitment to rebuilding homes, hospitals, schools and marketplace facilities. The park is also a milestone for the agency's plan to help rebuild neighborhoods - something that would help residents, who suffered the trauma of sudden, tremendous loss, regain a sense of community and normalcy.

"We are really grateful [for] Taman Sari being rebuilt by CRS," commented Dr. H.T. Saifuddin, municipal secretary for Banda Aceh. "People not only need a house but also a place to have recreation." The park's inauguration ceremony in March 2007 included Acehnese traditional welcoming dances, a moment of silence for tsunami victims, a dedication by CRS and performances by kindergarten students from a nearby school.

In addition to an expansive playground, the park consists of a manicured garden with a fishpond, a parking lot, and a multipurpose building that houses a gallery, restroom, library, meeting room, prayer room and kitchen.

Our Work in Indonesia

CRS began working in Indonesia in 1957, helping rural communities alleviate suffering, eradicate poverty and become self-reliant. Initially, CRS used food aid to address food insecurity in certain parts of Indonesia through food-for-work, health and nutrition, and income-generating programs. In response to the 2004 earthquake and tsunami, CRS opened an office in Aceh to meet communities' needs for shelter, infrastructure, health, water and sanitation.

Kai T. Hill is an associate web producer. She works in the Baltimore office. Jullya Vigneshvara is a monitoring, evaluation and communication field officer for CRS Banda Aceh.