ITHACA — One year after the Southeast Asian tsunami decimated his
village of Kampung Jawa in Indonesia, Saiful Mahdi continues to help
the community pick up the pieces.
“Hopefully the small things we've been able to do for my family,
my village and my community in Aceh make a difference,” said Mahdi,
a Cornell University doctoral student. “I can only do that with the
support of the community here and my friends here.”
It's a process, he says, that
is painstakingly slow, though Mahdi is among those who have tried
hard to make it move more quickly, even from a world away.
With help from neighbor and friend Mazalan Kamis, of Keremat,
Kuala Lampur, Malaysia, Mahdi started the Aceh Relief Fund earlier
“We got overwhelming support, more than what we initially
needed,” said Kamis, a postdoctoral fellow in education at Cornell.
“I wish it could be more because, you know, I receive people from
the U.K. (United Kingdom), California, from other countries, wanting
to help. Our major aim was to really link the Ithaca community and
Originally, the two men began the fund as a grassroots effort to
collect money for direct delivery to the survivors of Mahdi's
Over the next few months, the two bank accounts grew into the
Aceh Relief Fund. Mahdi took leave from his studies in city and
regional planning to go home in January. In April, Kamis went to his
friend's hometown. Both men chronicled parts of their experience in
journals that can be found on the fund's Web site: http://www.acehrelief.org/.
“I told Mazalan, ‘What's the point of doing this because the
catastrophe is so big, you don't feel like you're doing anything,”
Mahdi said. “But with encouragement from friends, it moved forward.”
Despite local presentations, some local schools have opted to
donate to relief efforts through other organizations.
“At some schools, they collected money like in a coin
collection,” Kamis said. “Some schools, even after we made our
presentation, they still decide they wanted to give to the Rotary -
which is okay with me - but if it's a school within the area, that's
kind of disheartening. Teachers and students help as individuals,
but it would be nice if schools as organizations would come forward
Northeast Elementary School teachers Kelly Craft and Kari Krakow
went to Aceh in February to train volunteers in early childhood
education. Both Mahdi's and Kamis' children attend classes at the
elementary school. The two teachers brought boxes filled with school
supplies and a special goodwill ambassador.
“Kari brought along Baby Bear, an important member of her
classroom,” wrote Kelly Craft in the online journal posted on the
Web site. “He does seem to bring smiles to children and adults alike
wherever we go.”
The response from the Indonesian government and international
community remains painfully slow, drawing comparisons from Mahdi and
Kamis to the earthquake in Pakistan Oct. 8 and Hurricane Katrina,
which devastated the Gulf coast of the United States in August.
“Some NGOs (nongovernmental organizations), like Mercy Corps
America, have to go directly to the head of a district,” Mahdi said.
“The government planned to build 120,000 houses. So far, the
government has only built 10,000. Not a single home has been built
by the Asian Development Bank or the World Bank.”
Mahdi, who is on educational leave from his lecturer's position
at Syiah Kuala University, recruited some of his own students to
help with the planning. A community center has been erected with
running water and electricity.
Microloans, educational facilities, a library and transportation
are priorities in the relief efforts. The men estimate that $200,000
is needed to continue their work in Aceh.
“We got up to around $110,000. That has been very very helpful in
supporting our work,” Kamis said.
At least 216,000 people died or disappeared in the tsunami,
according to an Associated Press assessment of government and
credible relief agency figures. The United Nations estimates the
number at 223,000.