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Al Jazeera: Tsunami 'Blessing in Disguise': A Baker's Inspiration

Indonesia, May 23, 2008

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Claudia Theophilus

Al Jazeera English
May, 2008

Aceh, IndonesiaNelly, or Ibu Nelly as she is known in her village, survived the deadly tsunami with her husband and two children.

Like thousands of other tsunami survivors, Nelly lost her relatives and everything else after giant waves flattened Aceh's coastal communities, and in some parts, slammed into towns 10km from the shore.

"I had a small bakery with six workers in 2001 but lost it all in the tsunami," she says, stacking flavoured buns into big white plastic crates for transportation.

In the months after the disaster, Nelly and her husband, Ismail, were each earning $3.50 a day to clean up affected areas under a cash-for-work programme run by Mercy Corps, a US-based aid agency.

But Nelly, 33, was keen to start baking again and sought financial assistance from Mercy Corps, which offered to guarantee her bank loan as part of its recovery plan for tsunami victims.

A year later she re-started her bread business in her village of Nusa just outside of the provincial capital Banda Aceh.

"We only had an oven and a mixer," she says. "And we managed to raise some capital by selling off whatever rice we had stocked up."

Today, the couple run the fairly successful Nusa Indah Bakery out of an old, cramped house in the village.

About 100 metres away a new and bigger building is under construction.

"We'll be moving to a cleaner place once our new place is finished later this year because I realise that hygiene and food safety is extremely important in this business," she says.

Last year they won Rp45m ($4,800) for running the best micro-business in the country, beating more than 5,600 entries in an annual competition held by a big Indonesian firm.

Nusa Indah Bakery now employs about 30 workers and bakes up to 15,000 rolls of buns a day for distribution to major towns across the province.

"When the tsunami hit us, I felt like it was the end of the world," she says, recalling the morning of December 26.

"I'll never forget that day … I almost lost the will to live."

What saved Nelly was the shared burden of loss she experienced with thousands of other tsunami survivors, many suffering a much worse fate than her.

"The disaster has somehow been a blessing in disguise," she says. "That's how I'd like to think of it now."