Page 8, 6th January 2006

6th January 2006
Page 8
Page 8, 6th January 2006 — The day the wave came

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Organisations: People's Crisis Centre


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The day the wave came

Patrick Nicholson on Cafod's work in the wake of the tsunami

Fgr many in Aceh the tsunami killed without warning, extinuishing lives in an instant. Some survived because they were washed on to the tops of coconut trees, where they clung on for their lives. Others saw the 30ft wave bearing down on them, describing the dark wall of water as a giant question mark. They ran for their lives, many caught by the water, killed by the debris churning within it.

Razali Mahmoud, 32, lives in Blang Krueng, a coastal village on the outskirts of the province's capital, Banda Aceh. He did not see the waves coming because he has been blind since he was a baby.

"There was incredible confusion," he said. "People were running in every direction, saying the sea was corning. It was terrifying, but my nephew found me and helped me to escape. We were knocked off our feet many times by the force of the water, but eventually we found safety. Without my nephew, I do not know if I would be here today."

The Indonesian province of Aceh was devastated by the tsunami: 130,000 people were killed, and 500,000 have been made homeless.

"It was traumatic for everybody," said Razali. "There were bodies everywhere. People were searching for friends and family. They said that we could not go back to the village because there was nothing left there but corpses." Razali's survival was miraculous, but he does not think himself lucky. He lost his mother and two brothers that day. Rebuilding after the tsunami across 10 countries and two continents has been a vast task. If the reconstruction effort were to work at the same pace as Britain when it built Milton Keynes, it would take another 233 years (until 2238) to rebuild all the houses. But Cafod insists that progress has been good.

Next month, Razali will move into his new home built by the Cafod partner Islamic Relief. "I feel very happy about moving into my new house and starting to live again," he said. "For the last year I have been living in temporary shelter and it will be good to have a home again. I'm looking forward to just having some place where I can listen to music."

Cafod and Islamic Relief are building 49 other houses in Razali's village for widows of the tsunami. Nearby, the finishing touches are being put to a further 100 houses that will be used by workers at the local university. They will have been handed over to their new owners before the one-year anniversary. Cafod and its partners are also providing the community with a hospital that has been repaired and a newly built high school.

Mrs Roshni is the headmistress of the school. Before the tsunami, she had 240 students. Now she has only 79 children to teach. She has been providing lessons in a temporary school that Cafod's partners built.

"All the parents and the children want to go to school again," she said. "It is a sign that things are returning to normal. We will be getting the new school building in December and everyone is really looking forward to it."

Eva Maqfirah is nine years old, and attends the school. Her father saved her from the tsunami, but they lost their grandmother. Their house was washed away, and their only possessions were what they were wearing when the tsunami struck.

Eva's father is a tricycle cab driver. He lost his cab in the tsunami, but with Cafod's support has been able to buy a new vehicle and return to work. This way, he says, he has been able to buy Eva books and support her at school.

Rebuilding the economy will be vital if reconstruction efforts are to be a success and Cafod's rehabilitation programme includes creating sustainable livelihoods.

Sifi Rahmah lives in Meunasah Baro village in Aceh, which locals now call "ghost village". The waves reached her house but did not completely destroy it. She had worked from home before, making a coconut paste used in local cooking. But the water damaged her grinding machine and with it her only source of income. Through the local agency — the People's Crisis Centre — Cafod has helped her buy a new machine and she is now earning enough money to support her family. Chris Bain, Cafod's director, travelled to the tsunami-affected region over Christmas with Cardinal Cormac M urphy-O ' Con no r, Archbishop of Westminster. In addition to showing local people the Church's ongoing support for the redevelopment effort they also wanted to see how the money raised has been spent.

Cafod received an astonishing £27 million for its tsunami appeal , £9 mil.. lion of which came from the Catholic community in England and Wales. The charity's campaign is summed up by the words, "Building back better".

Mr Bain said the redevelopment was not just an opportunity to restore people's lives and livelihoods but to improve it.

"Cafod is not simply intent on restoring lost property and means of making a living, but in helping people improve their standard of living even better than before the tsunami," he explained.

"Cafod and its partners have made good progress, but there is still much to do."

For Razali Mahmoud it has been difficult to find his bearings again in the village. As a blind man, he was able to walk unaided by remembering where everything was. Now the village has been wiped away down to its foundations he must rely on the help of his friends. But in two years the village will be rebuilt and he will be back on his feet again, independent and finding his own way.

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