Normality returning to Aceh - Caritas update

International Programs Manager for Caritas Australia, Jamie Isbister, has just returned from a visit to Aceh, an Indonesian province badly affected by the tsunami, where he assessed progress being made by Caritas Australia workers in rebuilding houses and whole communities.

The Caritas Australia shelter team is working to rebuild devastated areas such as Banda Aceh in the Aceh Besar district and Meulaboh in the Naganraya district.

"In the main, it was a very positive experience. I was there only a week after the tsunami hit, to see what we needed to do and the contrast is striking," Mr Isbister said.

"When I first saw the condition of towns in Aceh, when bodies were still being dug out of fields and everything was in a state of total chaos I couldn't imagine it ever getting back to normal - but normality is beginning to return," he said.

"A huge amount of debris has now been cleaned up. Children have returned back to their schools, which have been cleaned out. A clinic that was completely decimated, where 30 people died, has been completely rebuilt and is now open and providing health care to the major town it services," he said.

"This is so different to what I saw the first time - there is a vibrancy that is beginning to return. There is a lot of trade and the presence of people. There is still a lot of work to do but the results so far are encouraging," he said.

Following the tragedy, clinical psychologists Peter Hosking of the Jesuit Refugee Services, and Mary Anne Loughrey of Mercy Works, were appointed by Caritas Australia to help train the local staff in how to deal with the ongoing trauma and stress impacts of the tsunami on families, in particular on children.

"These traumatized people would have nightmares, fears about returning back to live near the ocean, not wanting to go back to school or work, not being able to return to fishing because of fear of water or farming because of the fear of digging up a body," Mr Isbister said.

"One ongoing concern is that reconstruction has been slower than we would have liked. Reconstruction work can not begin until the local communities have set their own direction, but often this is not possible because of conflict. This conflict results from the peoples' trauma relating to fears and anxiety that has surfaced since the tsunami, and needs to be resolved before work can progress.

"If you have 100 people living in a community and only fifty want to rebuild their housing right by the sea, then that is something that needs to be resolved, so that housing isn't rebuilt in the wrong places.

"In situations like that, we need to ensure that a lot of talking is done and that people are in agreement before a decision is reached - if we are to ensure the long-term security of the community", he said.

Caritas worker reports on Aceh (Caritas Media Release 10/6/05)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Caritas Australia

Caritas update on Indonesian earthquake activity (CathNews 18/5/05)
Caritas helps distressed people of Nias (CathNews 1/4/05)
Indonesian Jesuit says foreigners must not leave Aceh (23/3/05)

14 Jun 2005