Indonesia: Keeping connected in Yogyakarta

International Federation in Yogyakarta, Indonesia

One year on from the Yogyakarta earthquake, hundreds of thousands of people are rebuilding their lives, picking up the pieces that were so violently smashed. For a lot of survivors, the long road to recovery is compounded by feelings of grief and loss.

Many people lost family members and friends in the earthquake. Some also lost the ability to walk. Nearly a thousand people suffered spinal injuries, a tragically common consequence of earthquakes, when collapsing buildings crushed occupants.

The International Federation's Phil Vine looked at how the Indonesian Red Cross (PMI) is supporting an isolated group of people disabled by the earthquake to maintain hope and stay in touch with each other through a network of old radio telephones.

In the earthquake they lost homes, friends, family and the ability to walk.

For many of them, thoughts of suicide are common.

But when they wake up in the morning they switch on a radio telephone and are part of a small, connected community of old technology that keeps their hope alive.

The initiative came from Pak Tutur a volunteer at an Indonesian Red Cross (PMI) physiotherapy clinic, and coordinator of the programme. He realized many of the disabled people they were treating were prone to depression, and some to suicide.

"Within our first group of 20 people with spinal cord injuries three have tried to commit suicide. They tried to cut their wrists and to drink mosquito repellant," he explains.

One of those who tried to take her own life is Erna. A 26-year-old university graduate, she was about to start her first day of teaching at a middle school when the earthquake struck. She hasn't walked since.

Thanks to PMI, Erna now has a radio telephone in her house with a 12-metre antenna outside and can talk whenever she wants with seven other spinal cord patients in her area.

Pak Tutur says it's important for patients to keep in contact with others going through the same problems, bolstering each others spirits so they don't try and end their own lives.

A taboo subject

The magnitude 6.3 earthquake claimed the lives of 5,749 people, injured 38,000 and left more than 1.1 million homeless.

However, there are no accurate figures for the number of suicides attributed to the disaster. Suicide is a very taboo subject on Java, explains Pak Tutur.

"In the Muslim faith if you commit suicide you go straight to hell. There is a lot of shame if someone in a family does this."

Nearly a thousand people suffered spinal cord injuries in the quake. They are some of the most susceptible to severe depression, he continues.

"These are people with high mobility before the earthquake with jobs and busy lives. Now they just have to sit at home."

As well as informal chat, there is also a structured programme on the network, when patients take turns to give prayers early in the morning, and to share readings from the Koran in the evening.

It's a lifeline for patients who can't get to the mosque in their wheelchairs.

Later in the evening, the topic turns to a very personal issue. One of the most common topics of conversation among the men, says Tutur, is how their disabilities will affect their ability to have a family.

"They are able to talk about this sensitive subject because they have got to know each other well, and they don't have to look at each other when they are talking," he says.

This week they have some good news to talk about. A member of their network has just found out that his wife is two months pregnant.