A Simple Plea: "Help Us"

Twenty-seven-year-old Ari Suryono was fast asleep at his mother-in-law’s house in Prawirotaman village when the 27 May earthquake struck Yogjakarta province on the island of Java, Indonesia.

She’d locked up on the way out to perform some morning chores so Ari and the rest of family were trapped, terrified, inside the creaking home until the first powerful tremors eased and a key could be fitted into the lock.

The door opened to reveal an unfamiliar landscape of rubble and broken timber where a bustling Bantul district village once stood.

With barely a word, Ari hopped on his motorcycle and sped as best he could through the debris to his parents’ home. Through his tears he noted that the closer he got, the more severe the destruction seemed.

Nothing remained of the family home but broken brick and smashed masonry. Not a wall survived intact.

“A neighbor told me that my parents had already gone to a camp, so I ran to look for them there. When I saw my parents, we all hugged each other and cried,” said Ari. “I was so relieved to see them alive.”

He learned that his mother was working outside and his father was praying in the local mosque at the time of the earthquake. If they’d been inside the home it is unlikely they would have survived, Ari said.

Not everyone was so lucky. Ari joined the search party that recovered his uncle’s body from his flattened home.

“He must have tried to hide under the bed, but when walls collapsed, the bed was also crushed,” explained Ari. “It took us one and a half hours to locate him. If we had found him earlier, we might have been able to save his life.”

Ari and his family are now staying in one of several thousand tents donated by the Government of Japan and distributed by IOM on behalf of the Indonesian government. There is a simple message painted on the tent: “Help us”.

Ari used to be a freelance tour guide at Borobudur temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site but he is not sure if he can continue to work there in the future.

“I still haven’t seen how bad the damage was at the temple but because of this earthquake and the active Merapi volcano, nobody wants to come to Yogyakarta any more. So I don’t know what I am going to do,” he said.

(Editor’s note: Borobudur temple was undamaged by the earthquake)