Five years after a devastating tsunami wiped out vast coastal areas in India, Thailand, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, homes and communities have been rebuilt and Christian aid agency Tearfund is getting ready to pull out.
Nearly a quarter of a million people were killed when a 9.1 magnitude earthquake off the west coast of Sumatra triggered a tsunami on Boxing Day 2004.
Tearfund was part of the massive humanitarian effort that kicked in to ensure that millions of survivors received food, medical care and shelter in the immediate aftermath. Sarah Dellor, Tearfund’s project officer for Indonesia, recalls mile after mile of destroyed houses with only the foundations remaining.
“Everybody we met had known someone who had died in the tsunami. Every family had been affected,” she said.
With so many homes destroyed, rebuilding permanent housing was one of the biggest challenges in the long-term recovery of the area. Now all survivors are in permanent housing and getting on with their lives.
“Seeing the impact of our work is very encouraging. You can see people in their homes and they are looking like real homes now with flowers growing outside. People have got ownership over their homes and we are hearing stories from our partners of whole families and communities being restored,” she said.
The church has been instrumental in meeting both the social and spiritual needs of the community. In the Andaman Islands, Tearfund partner the Emmanuel Hospital Association envisioned local church leaders to reach out and meet the social and spiritual needs of their communities. Many pastors later remarked that this was the first time they had realised that such needs even existed in their own communities and that they had experienced church growth as a result.
In India, the church was key to several projects, helping to indentify beneficiaries and rebuild a sense of community among the people.
“The church leaders are key people as they are often well-respected and have a lot of responsibility,” Ms Dellor explained. “They helped a lot in terms of identifying beneficiaries and through the witness of the church, the church has really grown.”
In Aceh, where the tsunami effectively ended 25 years of conflict, Tearfund trained counselling assistants to help survivors talk through the trauma of the conflict and the tsunami.
“There has been so much progress even just in terms of people’s morale. It’s totally different talking to someone now than a few years ago when the grief was very raw and people weren’t sure what was happening,” she said.
What is more, Tearfund and other NGOs have implemented disaster reduction measures to help safeguard communities against natural disasters in the future and the mood is positive.
“Many are in better housing now than they were before and with the disaster reduction measures in place now, most communities feel much more confident now to face the next disaster than they did before,” she concluded.
“There is a real resilience and determination to continue despite all the difficulties. Some people lost all their children and suffered things that are so horrendous we just can’t imagine.
“Just seeing how they persevered and could still be positive about things in life and how people in the community rallied around each other was a real privilege.”
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