A Decade of Tsunami Relief in Indonesia

This is excerpted from Friends Peace Teams in Asia West Pacific‘s Fall Newsletter. 

Friends are sometimes surprisingly well-equipped to respond to disasters. An outstanding example was the 9.3 magnitude earthquake on December 26, 2004 killing at least 230,000 people in 14 countries. The world responded, Friends among them, with an estimated US$14 billion in humanitarian aid. Over this decade, FPT-AWP offered a unique contribution.

First, we had personal relationships with people in the hardest-hit area, Aceh, the north tip of Sumatra. Aceh was at war for independence from Indonesia. Although tsunami aid was massive, the Indonesian government directed aid to specific urban areas, not to many affected rural coastlines. Through Peace Brigades International, Nadine Hoover was one of a few outsiders who had trustworthy personal relationships in Aceh at that time. This network allowed us to effectively deliver aid directly into the hands of tsunami survivors.

Second, we spoke openly and directly to people on all sides of the war, valuing every person and speaking to their inner sense of what’s right. We acted from the Quaker tradition of taking no sides, making no enemies. The genuineness of our respect for everyone allowed us to accomplish what others considered impossible. We built houses, equipped schools and replaced tools for farming and fishing, but also invested in relationships with people. Every contribution was personal and memorable.

Finally, we understood help often does not help. Help is disrespectful when we think people are not capable themselves. A good neighbor brings a meal or two, but does not take over the house. We immediately provided water, food, medicines and sanitary items necessary for immediate survival, but were slow to assume that purchasing other items was needed. As food stabilized, we heard: “Go ahead, build me a house, but mine has been burnt down three times.” “If you build a bathroom, the military will take my home. Please don’t build a bathroom.” They would say, “The tsunami hit once, the war hits day after day after day. Please help us survive the war.” So, we introduced the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) nonviolence training and then extended the training to trauma resiliency, developmental play for peace, and discernment. This work continues today.