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


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