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A new way of giving

October 2, 2009

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With the recent earthquake that struck Sumatra island this week, there are concerns that an earlier disaster here in Indonesia will be forgotten: the 7.3-magnitude earthquake that hit cities and villages in West Java earlier in September. But Mercy Corps emergency teams are still working with the families that survived that quake.

Here is a story from the village of Garut, in West Java's earthquake-stricken Pamengpeuk district, that happened near the end of last month.

The exhausting eight-hour from Jakarta did not affect our enthusiasm to share our time, hearts and love with those who were sharing what remained of their belongings with other earthquake survivors. The earthquake hit several communities in West Java, and now we had arrived in one of the most-affected areas. Pamengpeuk is a district with a public health center that's led by a beautiful doctor named Dr. Nadya Fachrudin. Dr. Nadya has worked here passionately for 11 years, and only returns to her home in Jakarta on Sundays to visit her husband and family.

Giving to those that have been struck by disaster is an honour — gifts usually take the form of material goods and visible things and, of course, that is not wrong. But today we come with the intention of giving something that cannot be seen with eyes — we come with heart, knowledge and experience, to share with mothers that breastfeeding is best for their babies, even in this time when formula milk is being distributed for free.

Over the course of two days, we met 20 health providers and shared the benefits of breastfeeding and the dangers of formula milk in a relaxed, fun and joyful way. On the last day of this short orientation, one of them had this to say:

“We have never received any detailed lessons on breastfeeding and complementary feeding like this before, which was given in an enjoyable and interactive kind of way. Our comments and concerns were appreciated. We hope that we could get more lessons from friends who came from Jakarta.”

Honestly, there were feelings of happiness. We were proud and touched to hear their comments. These feelings got stronger when, the next day, we conducted an orientation to local health volunteers, including the wife of the village leader. They enthusiastically followed each session and started to realize the dangerous of formula milk.

“We never received this kind of training, so fun and interesting, with so many new things to learn,” said one of the participants. This sentiment was repeated by Ibu Yuyuk, a volunteer from the village of Kampung Baru, as we led a group discussion. “This is so different, all this time we got many kinds of donation, not like today. Today we're getting new knowledge, more important than any products we've received,” she said.

With these comments, I felt so lively and moved inside. There are a lot of things we could share with survivors: knowledge, information and experience to help them fight back after these days of disaster.

I never forget the smile and laughter of Dr. Nadya, the midwives, volunteers, mothers and all the children we’ve met. Those smiles strengthened our spirit to keep sharing. Those smiles and laughs made us stronger to be apart from our families for a while. And those smiles taught something meaningful, that there is another way of giving — through sincerity, love, knowledge, information and experience.

We came back to Jakarta with memories of strength and toughness, of the hearts of those survivors to welcome the celebration of Eid-ul-Fitr. They were not only able to conquer the fasting month of Ramadhan, but also they could conquer their sadness to keep happily celebrating the blessed day.