Spirit of Volunteerism Alive in IOM Staff

Two members of IOM’s Banda Aceh-based tsunami reconstruction team are among the 21 spirited volunteers assisting the Organization’s emergency response to the devastating 27 May earthquake on Indonesia’s Java island.

Teuku Maksum, a 28-year-old Acehnese architect employed by IOM’s construction services unit in Banda Aceh, and security assistant Vita Damayanti each had their own reasons for travelling to the earthquake ravaged area. The first was spurred to action by his desire to assist survivors of natural disasters, while the latter responded to terrifying images of her home village and family home reduced to rubble.

“I’ve been volunteering since 2000 and when I heard about Yogjakarta, it reminded me of Aceh which on the first day after the tsunami had a small number of casualties that increased rapidly,” said Maksum, who witnessed the devastation wrought by the December 2004 tsunami. “Thank God this is not as bad as the tsunami.”

Within days of the dawn quake he’d cleared off his desk and notified his supervisor of his plans to head to Yogjakarta.

"Other Indonesians came to help us during the tsunami so I am helping them now,” he said. “I informed my mother of my plans and she sealed her approval with a smile. So, I’m here for the next two weeks.”

Maksum spent his first six days in Yogjakarta helping patients from Bantul hospital return home. He is now concentrating on what he does best, architectural design and planning.

“The way houses are constructed here is wrong and the materials used are of extremely low quality. It is good that some villagers are starting to rebuild, but if they use the old method, it’s scary what could happen if there is another earthquake,” he said.

Over the next few days Maksum, who started working at IOM in February 2005, will develop a plan to reinforce earthquake-damaged structures.

“Some homes are not completely damaged so we need to try and see how they can be reinforced, especially the main pillars. That’s the first step,” Maksum said.

Maksum began doing volunteer work six years ago when he and some other architect friends brainstormed on the best way to rebuild homes damaged by a massive flood in the Lampaseh area of Aceh.

“After the floods subsided, my friends and I formed ‘Architect Help’,’’ he said. “ We went around assessing the damage and proposed a plan for proper housing to various donors. They were impressed and helped us obtain raw materials to start rebuilding. We helped 30 families in Lampaseh and it felt good. I want to do the same here.”

Twenty-four-year-old Vita Damayanti is spending her annual leave in Yogjakarta, shuttling between her home in Ganti Warno in Klaten district and the IOM office in Yogjakarta.

“My sister who stays in Klaten town sent me a text message at five minutes past six on the morning of the earthquake saying that Merapi had exploded,” Vita said. “I turned on the TV and heard that an earthquake had flattened Klaten, not an explosion.”

She frantically tried to reach her in-laws and family. The first contact was with her mother who told her about the tremors and of the ensuing confusion during which some panicked local residents spread rumours of an impending tsunami.

She received news that her in-laws were okay and then saw their destroyed home on television. This convinced her to get to Klaten as quickly as possible.

“When I spoke to my father-in-law that Saturday (27 May), his voice was shaking and he was distraught. He said his house was no more,” Vita said. “I comforted him saying that my husband and I both had jobs so we would rebuild the home for sure.”

Vita caught a flight to Yogjakarta on 1 June, met up with her husband Martinus and together they returned to their hometown, Gesikan village, to help his family put their life back in order.

Gesikan village was levelled by the earthquake. All 69 families, mainly rice and vegetable farmers, lost their homes. When the earthquake struck, some ran into the nearby fields while others crawled beneath their beds. Neighbours recall how a young child who prostrated himself in the Muslim position of prayer emerged unscratched from a home where seven people died.

The only part of the family home left standing is a corner from which Vita’s mother-in-law Wiwik operates a tiny shop. Immediately following the earthquake, she stocked up on water, instant noodles and biscuits and now prepares simple meals for the many volunteers who have descended on the village, located in one of the three worst-affected districts.

“I’m just so relieved that my family is fine, so thankful for that,” said Vita. “When I came home I brought along a tent that was given to me by a colleague, Shaqir. My husband put it up and my mother-in-law smiled and said she could now have a decent night’s rest.”

The neighbours were elated to see smiling Vita, the ever helpful anak kampong (child of the village) back home after ten months in Banda Aceh. The ladies are especially thrilled to see the slight bulge in her tummy signalling a new addition to their village. Vita is expecting her first child in six months’ time.

In addition to in-house volunteers, vacationing college students are also helping IOM escort hundreds of discharged patients home every day.

“Just giving them a helping hand, my shoulder for support and in some cases carrying men and women into the vehicles just makes life a little easier for them,” said Gito Nirboyo, a college student from the Indonesian Institute of Art who was drawn to IOM at a friend’s suggestion.

“My friend read about the work IOM is doing and now, here I am in Klaten hospital,” Gito said. “Volunteering is a natural calling. I volunteered in Aceh after the tsunami and I’m doing this now.”

Bastian Winarto is taking time off from his usual tour guide duties to ferry patients from the hospital to their homes.

“It’s quiet on the work side so I’m here, helping the injured return home, carrying their crutches and whatever else I can do,” said the robust 23-year-old.

Nineteen volunteers are assisting IOM’s medical returns programme which helped 1,598 patients and family members return to their home villages in the nine days following the earthquake.