Wednesday, December 07, 2005

In the air

Sri Lanka, here we come...almost. Currently in transit in Singapore after flying in from Auckland. Hoping to catch-up with the rest of the team soon - fingers crossed they are in from Jakarta and on the same flight to Colombo, as planned.

Susie has just reminded me that it is 2 am NZ time - which would explain why my fingers are not hitting the right keys and I having trouble coming up with simple sentences! Not to worry, it will be just after midnight when we get arrive in Colombo, plenty of time for some sleep.

Great to be underway and looking forward to seeing what NZ's efforts mean to those hit the hardest by the tsunami. Tomorrow we will be seeing housing projects funded by the Gisborne Lions Club and the United Sri Lanka Association - so expect an interesting 'in the field' installment tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Calling in from Indonesia

I had such good intentions of logging information each and every day... but it just hasn't worked out quite like that partly because we were out of access for a couple of days on Nias but also because we have been clocking up some long hours and by the time we get back in the evening and have sent a few emails its bed time!

I can't do the last few days justice right now, but I will provide a more thorough diary (with pictures) of where we have been when I get back to Wellington. But we spent two days sailing around Nias with Dr Dave and several members of the SurfAid team. We visited a number of communities where SurfAid has been providing medical support - particularly in the prevention of malaria. But their projects go well beyond that. In between visiting villages, we slept on the boat and swam several times in the sea - a considerably more pleasant experience than my annual dip in the waters of Island Bay.

From Nias we flew to Medan and on to Aceh where the pace of our visit can only be described as blistering! World Vision has been brilliant in organising a car and driver for us which has enabled us to cover many miles and visit an array of projects.

On Tuesday, we were picked up at 7.30am and spent the morning with Save the Children in Alue Naga - a few minutes outside Banda Aceh. SC is working with a fishing community and is supporting the construction of new boats, the repair of nets, a livelihoods programme and a women's cooperative venture. In the afternoon, we visited a project being supported by the Red Cross that is providing temporary pre-fabricated shelters. It was a bit of a 'scoop' as our team were the first journalists to see the first proto-type unit being bolted into place.

After a couple of interviews that Chalpat had organised, we had dinner with Graham Rapley, a New Zealander who has lived and worked in the city for many years and is currently overseeing the construction of housing units for the International Organisation for Migration (OMI).

Today we spent the morning with Oxfam and shared a coffee with the leader of Lambateung Village before visiting a housing project that they are jointly supporting with Muslim Aid. In the afternoon, we drove out of town to the Lhoong Valley to visit World Vision which is involved in a number of projects that include the construction of houses, health centres, a school and a series of child friendly spaces.

A big day and many miles covered. I am struck by the astonishing beauty of this place, by the extraordinary resilience, strength, kindness and generosity of the Achenese. But also by the sheer scale and enormity of the devastation wrought by the tsunami almost a year ago. Everyone has been effected in some way and it is sobering and humbling to meet people who have quite literally lost everything - family, home, livelihood and possessions - yet continue to smile and simply get on with living. The sense of hope and optimism is all around.

Aceh is beginning to fill with journalists and reporters and film crews from around the globe - someone today mentioned that 1500 are expected for December 26th. It has been a privilege to be here, and to witness first hand, examples of how New Zealand money and expertise are making a difference.

We head to Jakarta tomorrow after visiting UNICEF in the morning. Leonard stays in Jakarta; I head on to Singapore and home while Phil and Chalpat join Catrina and Susie in Colombo for the second week. Thank you to everyone who has made this trip possible and especially to the NGOs here in Aceh who have been so helpful and willing to share their time with us. Very much appreciated.

All the best, Mike

Monday, December 05, 2005

Aceh Update

Received a couple of quick emails from Mike today. Team has arrived safely in Aceh and right now will be visiting Save the Children and Red Cross.

During their stay they will be accomodated in the Aceh Media Centre, a facility established by the BRR for the anniversary period. This provides jounalists with communications facilaties, local assistance and free accomodation -- a really worthwhile initiative and I think our team are some of the first visitors to try it out.

Mike has promised (no pressure) to post tonight and even add some photos.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Next stop Aceh

As expected it seems as if Mike and the team may be encountering some difficulties getting internet access in Nias. Later today they will be heading back from Nias, via Medan, to Banda Aceh for a 3 day visit.

The destruction the tsunami brought to the Aceh region is well-documented, but the scale of the disaster there is truly difficult to comprehend. Many towns were virtually wiped from the map and over 160,000 people dead or missing -- a staggering number when you consider the population of Wellington (400,000).

I hope that, as well as seeing the NZ funded work firsthand, the team gets a feel for the wider context of this response - the recently signed peace agreement, the environemental issues, the efforts to bring effective coordination to this huge effort and the timeframes involved. I am sure you could spend many months covering those issues and 3 days will provide just a taster, but important that to we get into the public arena.

I'll have to give a bit of a plug to World Vision who have helped finalise the on-the-ground logistics for the Aceh visit. I'm now confident that the team will get picked up from the airport! and will not be stranded anywhere during the visit. Thanks also to all the other NZ based and Aceh based comms staff who have pulled together to organise visits etc for the team - its much appreciated.

Also heard this morning from our guide-to-be in Sri Lanka who has confirmed all accomodation and transport for the team...I must admit to a sigh of relief (or two) when I saw his email sitting in my inbox.

The generousity of the all those who have helped on the One Year On project is really something special.

Off to go an buy extra stregth bug repellent (much mentioned in the last 2 weeks) and hopefully Mike will post soon as my NZ based musings are not quite as interesting!!

Friday, December 02, 2005


I must admit I am very glad that all seems to be going well on the Indonesian leg of the One Year On journey. Putting together these schedules in an office thousands of miles away has not been without its challenges (including some sleepless nights) but knowing that is going to plan is great.

Still working on one or two details for the Aceh leg of the trip - all the NGOs we are visiting seem to have fatastic resources on the ground and I am really impressed with all offers of assistance and also the range of activities the team will be able to visit.

Sri Lanka is sneaking up on us...Susie and I leave on Wednesday - again all the project we will be visiting are sorted but have not yet heard from our contact who is arranging the accomodation and transport for the team. I'm hoping for the best!!

Apparently flying in an out of Nias is very much weather dependent (something I did not tell Mike before his departure!), so fingers crossed the team wake-up to a fine day.

Nias is a small island 125 kms of the coast of Sumatra. Although it is very close to where the epicentre of the December earthquake was, the island was not significantly affected by the tsunami but many buildings etc were destroyed by the quake itself. Nias was then struck by another serious earthquake in at the end of March - this was a very serious event with many killed and injured and many more buildings destroyed.

Nias and other close-by islands are famous throughout the world for their amazing surfing - which is where SurfAID comes in.

The SurfAID story is a great one and I am sure the team will get a great insight into their work while on this visit, which should involve a couple of nights on a boat travelling to some of the more outlying areas.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Turbulence and coming down to earth

Greetings from Medan - Indonesia's third city and, courtesy of Lion "We Make People Fly" Air, a two hour flight from Jakarta. As our Boeing MD90, laden with passengers and a vast amount of luggage, struggled into a thick band of cloud above the city, we hit a disturbing pocket of turbulence which reminded me of the classic Mr Bean sketch of the boy retching into an airline paper bag. I thought that flights in and out of Wellington could be bad at times, but I have never experienced anything quite like this.

We spent the best part of the morning at the New Zealand Embassy being briefed of the situation in Aceh and of what we are likely to see and find. Athol Soper (New Zealand Police) provided a very helpful summary of security issues in the province that has for many years been the subject of civil unrest. Mandy Whyte (NZAID Indonesia Manager) then briefed us on NZAID's Indonesia's aid and development programme - the extent and depth of which took us all by surprise. In relation to the tsunami support, for example, we all knew of the generous dollar-for-dollar funding mechanism for agencies and community organisations and of the lump-sum payments to a range of UN agencies, but I have to confess that I had forgotten just how many other projects NZAID has been supporting in the region. While largely focusing on governance and education, NZAID's programmes are many and varied. More on that in a later blog.

Fred van der Vloodt, NZAID's Programme Manager for South Asia, joined us to talk of the situation in Sri Lanka, which we will be visiting next week, and to outline a few of the projects that NZAID has been supporting.

Leonard joined us and it is truly wonderful to have him on board. For many years Leonard has worked in the NGO sector advocating for the environment and human rights and, prior to joining NZAID in September, was helping to organise a collective agency response to the tsunami. As well as doing some project monitoring work, Leonard will be our guide, translator, advisor and logistician for the next few days.

We emerged from our briefing and left for the airport. Our 'Bluebird' taxi sliced through the heavy downtown traffic and rocketed through a series of slip roads and onto the expressway. It was slightly unnerving being wedged in the middle of the backseat and hurtling along a triple carriage-highway with a sixteen-wheeled truck on one side and a bus full of lunch-time commuters on the other. But the driver could do this sort of thing in his sleep, so I sat back and forced myself to relax and caught glimpses, through what seemed to be an almost impervious barrier of enormous billboards featuring familiar products (Milo, Samsung, ANZ Bank) of Jakarta's new and impressive skyline.

And so, via Lion Air, to Medan - a city of contrasts. Trees and well-tended public gardens rubbing alongside exhaust choked highways that make your eyes wince; an eight storey air-conditioned shopping mall full of all the usual international fashion brands hard up against a traditional retail strip of small, single-storied shops selling everything from elaborately embroidered carpets to plastic cigarette lighters and fried noodles.

But tomorrow is an early start - we fly at 6.00am to join SurfAid which means a 5.30am departure from our hotel. So its off to bed for me.

Thank you Catrina - everything has run according to plan, although I have to say Leonard, Phil and I were slightly miffed when Chalpat was upgraded to Business Class on this afternoon's flight and while we all put up with a small plastic cup of water and a danish pastry, Chalpat tucked into a three-course meal with all the trimmings. But your organisational skills Catrina are legendary. Thank you. I owe you a banana milkshake.

So good night from me and will catch up tomorrow - assuming we can find internet access in Nias.