Indonesia: Tsunami 5 years on: "Now, I am living my life to the fullest"

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By Wiwik Widyastuti

It was high noon in Banda Aceh, a city that was devastated by the great tsunami in late 2004. The capital of the northernmost province on Sumatra and in Indonesia sounds rather quiet. For the past five years, it has struggled to re-emerge. Today, rows of new buildings are seen in every corner: offices, stores, houses, and schools. All were painted in modern colors. A sign of the city's rebirth.

In one part of the city, Eri Arfian, 26, is making coffee at his café, Milanisti. The café is ideally situated right across from the first international four-star hotel in Banda Aceh. During lunchtime, many customers come for lunch, while later in the afternoon, they come for the famous Aceh coffee. The young man walks out of the kitchen, carrying two glasses of black coffee on a tray. A man who is sitting in front of the flat-screen TV welcomes the coffee and smiles as he draws on his cigarette.

Before the tsunami hit the area, Eri and his family lived in Labui village near the coast. He had just started a computer class after graduating from high school. The powerful wave on Sunday morning five years ago swept away almost everything Eri had in his life. A house where he lived with his family, souvenirs of his childhood, and his mother, the biggest lost he must bear.

After the tsunami, Eri lived with his father in a barrack. Unable to continue his schooling, Eri followed the path of his father, Marwan, working as an unskilled construction worker for a humanitarian organization, rebuilding houses for his people. In October 2008, he joined the free hospitality training through CARE's Youth Project, while still working as a construction laborer.

"I was excited when I first joined the program, very keen to learn new knowledge and skills," Ery said enthusiastically. "It turned out to be a bright decision."

Trained by a professional chef, Eri learned how to handle food - from preparation of various local and international cuisine to serving the customers according to basic hotel standards. After four months of training, he did an internship in a reputable hotel to get firsthand experience in the hospitality business.

With the knowledge he gained and limited capital, the young entrepreneur started a sidewalk food stall nine months ago. Not long after, his friends joined the promising business and brought more capital. Received additional assets from CARE like a refrigerator, dining furniture and cutlery, Eri and his business colleagues rented a house-cum-shop and started the café business and catering service, delivering food to students from outlying towns.

With his new skill, Eri now has new hope for his future. With his café and catering services up and running, Eri earns around 5 (five) million IDR (US$450) per month and lives independently without help from his father.

"Sometimes, when lying in my bed at night, I think about my mother. It is still very hard, even after five years, but I try to move on with my life," says Ery while quietly taking a deep breath.

Immediately after the devastating tsunami, CARE provided assistance to more than 350,000 people, delivering life-saving food, clean water and supplies to the survivors. In the following years, CARE worked together with the people of Aceh to rebuild the lives of the survivors by reconstructing houses, health-care systems, water and sanitation facilities, livelihoods, schools, and community services.

The tsunami brought drastic change to many survivors, including Eri. After the tragic loss of his family's lives and assets Eri never thought that he would have something again in his life.

"Five years ago, I lost everything. I never thought I would have something again. Now, I am living my life to the fullest."