Indonesia: Tsunami victim turns village reconstruction activist

June 20, 2005 -- Lia Gho Siu Ching can consider herself lucky. Last December when the massive walls of water from the tsunami engulfed her village in Banda Aceh, Lia was away.

She had been visiting her sick mother in Jakarta, Indonesia's capital. But her heart was with her husband and four children, who were dealing with the tsunami and its after-math.

Returning to Banda Aceh three days after the tsunami, Lia found her village -- Kampong Keuramat - in a terrible condition. There were swarms of flies hovering around rotten bodies. Heaps of debris buried roads and houses. Electricity and water supply were cut off. A boat, washed ashore by the giant waves, exploded and caused a fire, burning down 45 homes and part of a mosque.

Fortunately all of Lia's family members survived, but their house was badly damaged. For a month before the debris at her house was cleared, Lia and her family stayed in a rented house in Ulee Kareng.

But she often returned to her village to extend assistance. She helped clear ditches and even went door to door offering well-cleaning for free. Aware of people's need for food, Lia also approached non government organizations for food items for the victims of the tsunami.

House turned bread collection centre

The legacy of her work is now evident in her home which she and her family share with her in-laws. Nowadays, Lia's home serves as a bread-collection centre. Residents around her neighborhood go to her house everyday to collect free bread delivered by a Turkish non government organization, Istanbul Buyuksehir Beliedeshi. The supply of 600 loaves of bread feeds around 180 families a day.

"My heart aches because I wasn't able to join everyone in their fighting against the tsunami, "Lia says. " So I've decided to help everyone, because now we are all the same. All of us are one family now."

While Lia is modest about her efforts to help those devastated by the tsunami, her initiatives have earnt her respect and support from her neighbors. They encouraged her to join the Kerap - an elected local committee which handles and monitors the reconstruction funds under the World Bank's Urban Poverty Project.

"People trust me, so I can't refuse them. I've only received high school education; I'm not a leader, just a helper. I'm not working so I have time to help,"she says.

Mapping out the future

Now as a Kerap member, she participates in land mapping training and organizes mapping sessions in her village. The mapping sessions are vital. One of the fundamental problems in the reconstruction process in Aceh is that many of the original land legal rights documents have been destroyed and the boundaries of land ownership are no longer clear.

Local communities are now involved in identifying land boundaries and ownership through the mapping sessions. The World Bank is helping the process by providing land mapping training to local communities through its existing Kecamatan Development Project and the Urban Poverty Project's network of facilitators -- people hired to liaise at the community level.

Last month, the multi-donor trust fund for Indonesia -- which has pooled more than US$500 million from donors and is managed by the Bank -- gave the go ahead to a US$28 million recovery of property rights program to help sort out land ownership through the urgent recovery of land records, establishment of a land occupancy database and rehabilitation of the land administration system throughout Aceh.

Lia's Kerap committee plans to complete its land mapping session for the village within one week.

"The morale of our people is very high. I don't see a problem gathering everybody for reconstruction."