Helping Aceh's "lucky ones" build a future
Breathing hope into disaster's epicentre
Malahayati, Indonesia – Boatbuilder Tahrudin counts himself among the luckier inhabitants of this tranquil fishing village 30 kilometres north of Banda Aceh, capital of the province worst hit by the tsunami.
Some 2 500 people, more than half Malahayati's population, perished in the disaster. Tahrudin, 27, and his wife Nur Hamifah lost "only" their home.
When the tidal wave struck Tahrudin thought first about his wife, at the time five months pregnant with their baby daughter, Julianti.
"I was very worried," he recalls. "I was near the beach and my wife was at home. The first water that came in covered my feet. The second wave was two metres high. I climbed on top of the roof of a house."
Nur Hamifah, meanwhile, fled the couple's home when she saw the tsunami crashing in and ran up a nearby hill. Minutes later the water began receding around her husband's rooftop refuge. "I ran to the hill and found my wife there," he says.
Six weeks after their narrow escape, Tahrudin had further good fortune. He met Eric Lyman, a businessman from the United States who was among millions of people worldwide who saw the plight of tsunami victims on television. Eric, from Boise, Idaho, and his brother Aaron, an entrepreneur from Austin, Texas, who had worked in Indonesia for 19 years, flew to Jakarta and put their savings into the Austin International Relief Operations (AIRO), a charity for tsunami survivors. "We just came down here off the cuff, not knowing how long we’d be here," Eric Lyman says.
The brothers quickly decided to open a boatyard to build vessels for fishers who had lost the craft that provided their livelihoods. Eric Lyman hired Tahrudin to build them.
Eventually, the Lymans turned to the FAO office in Banda Aceh to ask about obtaining financing to continue their mission. Soon AIRO was receiving not only funds but expert advice from Robert Lee, a resilient master fisher from Trinidad, with an irrepressible sense of humour, sent to Banda Aceh by FAO to bolster its relief team. Mr Lee has been in the vanguard of Indonesian reconstruction ever since, taking special care to discourage excessive production that might result in overfishing.
"FAO helps us because we hesitate to start a project unless we know it is ecologically sound," says Mr Lyman.
Now the boatyard has 11 full-time workers. Mr Lee keeps an eye on the boatbuilders, teaching them some tricks about how to build vessels that last.
"We have improved their construction techniques, teaching them, for example, a different way of putting nails into the wood, going in at an angle to lock the pieces together," Mr Lee says. "I also encourage them to stagger the joints and to order more wood than they need so that they can eliminate wood with faults."
FAO has provided funds to build a boat shed, a tool shed and a wood-drying rack for the team, and wood for the next set of five-metre boats.
In addition to materials, FAO also provided the workers with replacement tools. Carpenter Ramli Hachim, 25, was happy to see the new kit arrive: 40 or 50 items in all, including a chainsaw, six electric and hand drills, tape measures, spirit levels, whetstones, a circular saw and a grinder, all purchased locally in the city of Medan.
"With this FAO project, work will be better than before," Mr Hachim says. "We have new equipment and new tools. We are trained to use new techniques. I couldn't have afforded to build new boats myself."
Nur Hamifah, Taharudin and Julianti have a new house now on high land overlooking the boatyard.
"I am happy my husband has a new job," Nur Hamifah says. "When he’s not building boats he goes fishing. Before the tsunami he didn't own a boat. Now he has one of his own that he helped build."
Banda Aceh makes progress
Back in Banda Aceh, meanwhile, FAO has built a new fish market where fishers from communities like Malahayati can take their catch of tuna and grouper. Among the sellers chopping tuna into pieces for housewives is Rizkian Syah, 24, who lost all 40 of his family members in the tsunami, including his mother, father and six brothers and sisters.
Until a month ago he was living in a tent. He eked out a living salvaging and selling scrap iron from damaged buildings. His new market job pays the equivalent of US$60 a month. "In the scrap trade I earned only a little less but it was much heavier work." With more free time on his hands, Rizkian devotes himself to the sad search that preoccupies so many survivors – trying to find his relatives’ missing bodies.
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