One Year Later: Tsunami Survivors Express Reserved Optimism

Nearly a year following one of the most destructive natural disasters in this century, survivors of the South Asia tsunami are expressing reserved optimism about the future.

Along the coastline of Banda Aceh, Indonesia – arguably where the tsunami hit hardest – residents are still living in tents as they wait for the completion of their homes, struggling with haunting memories of death and destruction. Neighborhoods such as Kampung Mulia and Lampaseh Kota, once vibrant cities, now laid waste with Lampaseh Kota shrinking from a pre-tsunami population of 5,000 to a current figure of 1,000 residents.

In total, Banda Aceh is estimated to have lost 90,000 residents or about 1 in 4 people.

"We were like people losing our minds. We saw these bodies—women, children, older people—all around us and we couldn’t do anything," Marzuki Arsyad of the urban village of Kampung Mulia recalled to Church World Service (CWS).

However, CWS – which has been operating in Indonesia’s Aceh province for 24 years – reported that residents are trying to move forward and look to the future instead of holding onto painful memories.

In an interview with Afifuddin, 26, of Lampaseh Kota, the global humanitarian agency said the survivor spoke about memories of Dec. 26 “quietly, almost dispassionately,” as he focused on the “future and not the past.” Afifuddin lost a grandmother, nephews, nieces, a brother and a sister to the tsunami.

Similarly, Arsyad said “staying determined and busy has helped ease a bit of the trauma … [as he] is focused on the future and believes Aceh’s full recovery depends on developing the region’s economic base,” CWS reported. The disaster destroyed the villages’ source of income – fishing fleets, homes and nearly all livestocks.

In Meue village, a three hour drive south from the provincial capital of Banda Aceh, houses are beginning to go up as “some semblance of stability” is regained. The global humanitarian agency also assisted the village in obtaining 15 fishing boats and building 91 houses in the last year.

“[The sounds of hammers is] a harbinger of hope. Perhaps as houses go up, fear is eased some; a quiet sense of optimism – once almost unimaginable 11 months ago – is no longer in such short supply,” wrote CWS.

Syaraini, a mother of three young children who is preparing to move into her house, said having a home “calmed” her worries and fears a bit, with the housing reconstructions making "everyone feel more secure, so they can focus on earning an income."

As the relief, development, and refugee assistance ministry of 36 Protestant, Orthodox, and Anglican denominations in the United States, Church World Service works worldwide in partnership with indigenous organizations in more than 80 countries to meet human needs and foster self-reliance for those who face hardships.

"This is not just about building homes," said CWS staffer Ejodia Kakunsi after several days of visits to Aceh’s recovering coastal areas, "but building for the future."