Leaving the past behind

Indonesia, November 23, 2009

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Piva Bell/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Safuati looks from the doorway of Lamteungoh's women's center, built by Mercy Corps, toward the ocean where the tsunami rose nearly five years ago. Photo: Piva Bell/Mercy Corps
  <span class="field-credit">
    Piva Bell/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Wihidah, the treasurer of the Lamteungoh women's group, sits beside the equipment they use for their small business and also rent out for ceremonies and other special occasions. Photo: Piva Bell/Mercy Corps

If you come to Lamteungoh village in Indonesia's Aceh province for the first time without having any knowledge about the Indian Ocean tsunami, you will feel that there is nothing wrong with this village. It looks so normal and beautiful, where the sky is so blue and bright, herons seem so peaceful flying around with the sounds of splashing waves along the coast, and the scenery of a little island called Pulo Aceh right in front of your eyes.

Well, the truth is that much of this nice image of Lamteungoh village is the result of tsunami rehabilitation and reconstruction programs done by various non-governmental organizations, include Mercy Corps.

When the tsunami hit this area in late December 2004, the people of Lamteungoh village were not as lucky as their neighbor villages, Tutui and Lambaro Neujid. Those two villages are situated at the foot of hilly areas, and so much of the population ran to the hills and survived. Most of Lamteungoh village didn't survive, because the tsunami waves hit them when they were on their way to the hills, crammed on small roads crowded with people. That’s why there are only a few survivors left and Lamteungoh village was flattened to the ground by the tsunami.

This nightmare, which has always haunted Lamteungoh's survivors, is starting to vanish along with the time that passes by. Many of the things that were destroyed before — such as the community center, houses and other facilities — have been rebuilt, encouraging the villagers to start their normal life and activities again while trying to cure all their sorrowful memories.

In particular, the women of Lamteungoh village are grateful for the local women's center built by Mercy Corps. Because of it, now all the women in this village have a place to gather and to do their activities, such as meetings, trainings and business activities, as well as a place for monthly health check-ups for their babies.

Mercy Corps has also given the women here some equipment to start a small business: plates, glasses, bowls, frying pans, cauldron, and tents for outdoor activities. No wonder women in this village are so active, and really contribute big support for every activity in the village. Today, they are lending their expertise in cooking and decorating to various parties and ceremonies in the area. Safuati, a 27-year-old member of this women's group, proudly told me how happy she is to prepare meals for local events, and to know that all the guests really enjoy and appreciate her group's delicious cooking. It’s really meaningful for her.

Safuati's women group earns additional income by rent out the cooking equipment for $25 per day to people from other villages and $15 per day for their neighbors in Lamteungoh village, and they also rent out the large outdoor tent for $15 per day.

Wahidah, the 34-year-old treasurer for the group, said that any income these equipment rentals goes right back into supporting their group activities.

They are so proud with what they have and what they're able to do now, and smiles have come back to their faces. Their new lives have begun, and these women of Lamteungoh village are so thankful to Mercy Corps.