Indonesia

Indonesia: West Sumatra: In the ruins; "A place called home"

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GENEVA, SWITZERLAND - By: Ilmi Suminar

The earthquake has changed many lives in West Sumatra. They've lost their houses and loved ones. Yusmaida, 43, is one of the earthquake-affected people in Pinjauan in the Sungai Limau sub-district of Padang Pariaman. Before the earthquake, at 7.9 on the Richter scale, hit West Sumatra on 30 September, she lived in a small house with her husband, six children, a son-in-law and three grandchildren. She earned her living running a food stall in a nearby school where her husband worked as a gardener. By destroying both the house and food stall, the earthquake robbed her of her home and livelihood. Homeless, she now must stay in a small transitional shelter with the rest of her family, devoid of privacy and putting her family's health at risk.

The powerful quake

"I was preparing dinner for my family with my oldest daughter, Linda. Linda and I were the only ones home at that moment. Everyone was doing their own thing; my sons were bathing in the river and my grandchildren were playing at a neighbour's house, while my husband was visiting our relatives in another village.

"We ran out of the house when the earth started to shake. Linda hurried toward our neighbour's house looking for her children. The ground was still trembling, making it difficult for us to move fast. Linda collapsed to the ground. I panicked as I saw her lying on her stomach, because she was carrying her unborn baby, my fourth grandchild. I cried for help.

"When the earth finally stopped trembling, the neighbours came and helped us. Linda and her baby were safe after a midwife helped her. Yet I saw my house, my food stall, and my neighbours'' houses destroyed. I felt like it was the end of the world. At the same time, I was grateful that we were all safe.

"A few minutes later, a light drizzle started, which then turned into a heavy rain. We needed to find a place to take refuge. We went to the nearby school, but half of it was destroyed so we stayed outside on the terrace. Some of our neighbours joined us on the terrace later. As I watched the rain falling, tears stated to fall from my eyes. I thought about my dreams and hopes that had vanish in this catastrophe.

Starting over

"After two days, my family and I started to scavenge through the rubble looking for anything that could still be used to rebuild our life. Everything was destroyed, including our furniture, kitchen utensils, and the cooking equipment I rented for my business.

"The village official put our names on the list of people whose property had been destroyed. Aid such as instant food, rice, blankets and tents began to arrive from outside the village. We received a tent and set it up in front of our destroyed house. The problem was that 12 people don't fit in a 2x3 M tent, thus the men had to go back to the terrace of the school in order to give the women room in the tent.

"For few days we cleared up the rubble and salvaged housing materials such as wood, tin roofing, nails and anything else useful as shelter. A week after the earthquake, my husband hired two construction workers. Their expertise was building transitional shelters from wood. We used zinc for the roofing and walls and wood for columns. The labour cost us 750,000 IDR (about USD 80) for a transitional shelter of just two bedrooms.

"The two rooms are insufficient to accommodate 12 people. Our men stay outside in the tent. It's not as comfortable as our house but it's better than staying in the tent. We are protected from the wind and rain, even though it still feels cold at night.

"As long as the shelter can protect us from the weather at night, I think we will be alright. But it turns out that it is not very good for us, let alone for the children. My grandchildren started to catch flu and cough after a few days living in the temporary house.

"Two weeks ago my fourth grandchild was born. The baby needs extra protection and care, and I'm afraid the baby's development will be hindered living in situation like this. I also don't think it's good for my sons and husband to stay in a tent for a long time.

"We plan to build a new house that measures 6x8 meters. There will be three bedrooms in the house. I hope the house can accommodate all 13 family members and give us better protection from the weather and disease.

"However, we cannot do anything about this yet. Our resources are very limited right now. We have no more money to buy materials, and all material from the old house has been used to build the current transitional shelter. Rumour has it, the government will provide us money to rebuild our house, but we need it now and it's not going to be issued for 6 months.

"What we need is to build a new house, a place that can shelter us and a place to call home."

ACT International member CWS is in the process of providing transitional shelter for 200 of the most badly damaged homes in Yusmaida's village of Pinjauan.

Action by Churches Together (ACT) International is a global alliance of churches and related agencies working to save lives and support communities in emergencies worldwide.