Divine Word Missionaries

Tsunami in South-East Asia


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Messengers of Hope

Solidarity shown after the tidal wave in Asia

r. Amatus and Mr. Yofi called to see Fatima at her school. The 26th. of December 2004 was the day when the tidal wave passed through Southeast Asia, leaving her an orphan. She lost her six siblings and her parents as a result of the tsunami. “At present I am living with a distant uncle on my grandfather’s side. But I want to return to my own village, the place where my family are buried”, she said.

Hardly anything remains of Blang Krueng, the village where Fatima grew up. All that is left are a few half ruined houses, a dozen or so palm trees struggle to survive, and piles of rubble. It is unrecognizable, and has all the appearance of a war zone. A group of young men were trying to clean up part of it. The whole area smelled of burning rubbish and dead animals. They could only continue working there by covering their faces with masks. Even two months after the disaster they still continue to find bodies. The yellow sacks on the roadside indicate that they have discovered another body inside a ruined building. Fatima is visiting her village for the first time since fleeing the tidal wave which struck some months earlier. The painful memories that come flooding back fill her eyes with tears; “On that morning we heard a strange noise. We children ran outside to see where it was coming from. An enormous dark wave was coming towards us. My sisters and brothers ran inside. I climbed up into a tree near the house. The wave swept away the house with all my family inside”. Fatima covers her face with her veil and looks behind. Pain sweeps through her body. In her school alone, forty two young people have lost members of their families

New hope arrives thanks to VIVAT.

Father Amatus Woi and Mr. Yofi are visiting the school with the intention of helping some of those who have been affected. Both are part of a team of 30 religious missionaries as well as lay workers who are assisting in five areas of the Indonesian zone worst affected by the tsunami.

Immediately after the disaster struck they provided emergency medical aid, as well as distributing fresh drinking water, food, clothing and whatever else was needed for survival. Among the team are a doctor and four nurses, who up until now have been looking after the people in the refugee camps. When dealing with the authorities the missionaries present themselves as members of VIVAT a non-governmental organization founded by both our missionary congregations. Since last year VIVAT has received official recognition from the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations. “This means that we are respected and given freedom to work, by the political authorities in the Province of Aceh.” comments Father Amatus. “To the people we present ourselves as members of the Catholic Church” he adds. “The people accept us far better than we had hoped. This idea of radical fundamentalism is not part of the life of the majority of the population. The people of Aceh are just like the people of the other islands of Indonesia. They are very open, friendly and tolerant”.

Church groups were among the first to give assistance after the 26th. of December. Even though the number of Christians in the Province of Aceh does not make up even 1% of the population, they have shown great solidarity with their Muslim brothers and sisters. The have also come from other islands and Provinces, and even from other countries to show their support.

The missionaries of Vivat are to be found in some of the refugee camps, and respect the opinions of the people. They have responded generously to the request of a group of women who have asked for sewing machines, so that they may earn some money to support their families. The missionaries are supporting young students with the materials they need for their studies, and also with traveling expenses so that they can continue to attend classes. This means that they do not become a financial burden on their families who are undergoing difficulties at present. At the same time it means that they will not lose out on the school year.

In Fatima’s village some people asked for food in exchange for work. In this way they can continue cleaning out the pools in the fish farms so that they can be restocked with prawns and other types of shellfish. Some families made their living producing salt. Now they must begin all over again. They are buying the tools they need to prepare the ground, which is covered at present with debris from the tsunami. It was for this reason that the mayor of the village asked VIVAT for help, in order to encourage the people to continue working on the clean up, and rebuilding the village.

It will be some months, even up to a year before Fatima will be able to return to her village and to be with her neighbors again just as she was nine weeks ago.” I have not lost hope” the young girl said, pointing to a banana plant which in the middle of all the ruins has just begun to sprout up again. “We must not allow ourselves to lose hope and be overwhelmed by it all” she adds.

The people of Ache need to see these signs of life so that the hope of a new beginning will begin to sprout also in their lives.

Michael Heinz svd

Pictures on the SVD – Photo CD 36

and a lot more.

Some Additional Information – Asian Tidal wave.

Indonesia.

The area most affected by the tsunami of December 26th. 2004 was the island of Sumatra and neighboring islands like Palang, Banyuk or Nias. The tidal wave caused the death of more than 225,000 people (only God knows the exact number). The SVD’s are working in Medan and Sibolga, the two dioceses which cover the region. Our missionaries are to be found in six different parts of the region; - in four parishes in Medan and two in Sibolga.

In both dioceses, just as in the country as a whole, the Christian community makes up a minority of the population (in Medan 3.4% of the population are Catholic and in Sobolga 8 %.) The results of the natural disaster call us to show solidarity with those who have suffered. We remember the words of a popular hymn; “neither ones race, nor skin colour nor religion are important”. Nevertheless, there are some who are not very happy with the fact that the majority of the aid arriving is from Christian countries. These however are a minority of Muslims in the Province of Aceh, which is the northern part of the island of Sumatra, and the area worst affected. They are suspicious that behind the aid there is a hidden agenda of trying to make converts. Others however are very happy with the solidarity that is shown. An example of this is given by Father Aurelius Page SVD, coordinator of communications in the Province of Java. “I wish to emphasis something” he said. It is well known that in many parts of Indonesia there have been regular attacks on the Christian Churches in recent years. But this recent disaster has brought about a certain feeling of solidarity. The whole nation is united in sorrow.

A friend of mine, a Muslim cleric who is in charge of a Muslim seminary, expressed clearly his surprise; “I can hardly believe that you do all this for my sisters and brothers in Aceh”!

MH