Indonesia: Preparing for tsunamis through drama

By Megan Rowling, British Red Cross in Indonesia

An enthusiastic audience of children gathers for an impromptu performance under the shade of a tree in Ulee Paya village in Indonesia, and a sprinkling of curious adults peer over their shoulders. The drama - in the Acehnese language - has them all laughing from the start.

A group of their friends from Paloh village, a few kilometres down the road on the island of Pulo Breuh - which was devastated by the 2004 tsunami - has agreed to perform a drama they've written themselves. It's the first time they've taken it to another village on the island, although it has already been staged in the provincial capital of Banda Aceh.

The group is part of a committee - known as a community-based action team - set up by the British Red Cross to map out risks like floods, earthquakes and landslides, and plan ways to reduce the dangers. The members are chosen by the villagers and include women, the elderly and young people.


While the Red Cross Red Crescent has helped communities with money and organizational skills, the ideas come mainly from the local people themselves. In Paloh, the action team hooked up with the Paloh youth group to develop this disaster role-play.

A big banner strung up behind the stage reads: "Indonesia is prone to disaster: let's be prepared!"

First, the audience gets a taste of life before the tsunami - a mother scolds her child for getting his clothes dirty and is chided by her husband for being too harsh; a group of youngsters chat each other up; fishermen get ready to go to sea. Then the tsunami comes. Many people are killed, and the mother weeps over the body of her dead son.


After the disaster, a group of villagers get together for a meeting and start thinking about how they can prevent the same thing happening again. Along comes a foreign aid worker (named David and played by a lad in white sunglasses and a long brown wig) who asks what his organization can do to help. He's told that the village team needs support to put their ideas into practice.

Next time a tsunami comes, there's a warning and the villagers head to safer ground, helping pregnant women, the elderly and disabled people to get away with them. Only a few people are injured by the wave, and they are given first aid.

From the raucous laughter, it's clear the spectators enjoyed the comic parts, and afterwards they suggest it would be good to show it on local TV.

"They are glad because now they know what to do during a tsunami," explains Katijah, the mother in the play. "Some of them did and some of them didn't before, but after seeing us perform, they will know how to save people."