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02/11/05 12:00AM
Total Collected:
US$ 69,122.10

Journal from the Ground
by Mazalan Kamis

April 2005

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Friday, April 15, 2005

¬[04/14/05] [04/16/05]®

Touring the devastated region

I spend the morning touring the worst hit area of Banda Aceh with Saiful. I have no words to describe what I see. Everywhere I look, I see only destruction. To be told that this was once the most populated segment of Aceh is simply incomprehensible.

Dead trees and rubble are what remain of what was once a bustling city.


As far as the eye can see…nothing but rubble.

After nearly four months, many parts of Banda Aceh continue to remain in ruin. But the sheer zest to get back to normalcy exhibited by the Acehnese is evidenced everywhere. If only authorities could speed up the reconstruction efforts, Aceh will be back on its feet in no time. Sadly, from what I have observed thus far, the only structures that have been constructed with sheer earnestness and at lightning speed are the army complexes, or should I say, fortresses.

As for the victims, they have very little choice other than making do with what they have while waiting for the promised billion dollar assistance to trickle down to them. For the lucky ones, especially those who are being placed in the government built barracks, they get 30 cents a day. For the not so lucky (which in this case are the majority), they have to settle for donated rice and canned/dried fish for many more months ahead. Today I hear rumors that there is talk about cleaning roadside traders from Banda Aceh as a move by the authorities to improve the image of the city. As if there is not enough destruction already in Aceh…

Makeshift kiosks sprouting almost everywhere.


New settlements crop up all along the port city.

Victims defy the authorities and set up tents on their former properties which sometimes lie close to the edge of the sea. They are tired of the promised assistance which is slow or never to arrive. With nowhere to go, many feel it is better to live in tents on their ruined property, where at least they will get noticed by the many relief agencies.

Tired of living in tents, many survivors start building semi permanent structures on their property.


No one knows how many bodies remain buried under this colossal size ship which was forced by the tsunami to land two kilometers inland in a neighborhood in Banda Aceh.

added: 4/18/05
Working from the UN compound

After a tour of the destroyed city, Saiful and I decide to go to the UN compound to continue with our work. The compound is the only place where one can get access to wireless internet. The place also provides extensive information about UN activities in Aceh as well as general information about Aceh. This is the lifeline for the many local and international non-governmental agencies.

Plenty of information about Aceh can be accessed from the UN compound.


The only place for wireless internet is in makeshift tents in the UN compound.

Attending Friday Congregational Prayers at Masjid Baiturrahman
The Masjid Baiturrahman is the nerve center for the people of Aceh. In the immediate days after the tsunami, the mosque was the place where thousands of bodies were brought to and displayed for identification by surviving family members. Unclaimed bodies were then sent to mass graves for burial.
I meet and chat with three close friends of Saiful;  Sayed, Muhyidin (Pak Din), and Sabri. I have no courage to enquire further from these men when I learn about their sad stories. Sayed lost his two kids and his pregnant wife, Pak Din lost his father and a brother, while Sabri lost his wife and a daughter. Sabri still carries the only photo album in his possession containing the picture of his family everywhere he goes.

I am looking at Sabri’s only connection to his missing family, a family photo album.


Leaving the Masjid after prayers are over.

Meeting with the villagers
ARF receives an invitation to attend the first ever meeting among the surviving members of the Punge Jurong V village to be conducted at the village mosque. When we arrive at the site, we are surprised to find a large crowd gathered inside the mosque. Many women IDPs have returned from villages surrounding Banda Aceh where they are staying with their families and friends or in barracks. In normal circumstances, a community gathering like this will see many children roaming around or playing outside the mosque. However, this is not the case with this gathering. I learn later that so few of the children from this village survived the tsunami.

A huge turnout of the villagers in the first meeting at the village mosque.

The master of ceremony invites me to talk to the gathering. I present a brief introduction about ARF and its mission in Aceh. I call upon the villagers to let our representative understand how ARF can best assist them. I also talk about ARF’s intention of ‘adopting’ the village, which then receives thunderous applause from the villagers.

Presenting a brief talk about ARF to the villagers.


Only a handful of these women attendees still have their families.


ARF donates another USD 300 to the village for the purchase of bricks to rebuild the wall of the mosque.


Having a heart-to-heart talk with women IDPs. A majority of these women lost their husbands, children and their houses to the tsunami. I have to stop asking about their fateful experiences, since I can no longer bear to listen to the many of them. 


The villagers posing with me and the ARF banner in the background.


¬[04/14/05] [04/16/05]®