Muslim Aid Media Centre

Indonesia: Eye Witness Account

‘They gathered together, praying for those who’d just been pulled from the rubble.’

Muslim Aid’s Madiha Raza has just returned from the Palu city on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, epicentre of the recent tsunami, where she spent time with local people and saw how their faith inspires their resilience. 

‘I was on an aid mission in Syria on September 28th when the 7.4 magnitude earthquake struck the island of Sulawesi. Reports of entire villages being flattened, followed by the terrifying 18 foot high waves flooded in. I knew I had to get there and see how we could assist. I’ve worked in a number of disaster zones, including Iraq, but was nervous about what I was going to witness.

“Just a few days later I got off the plane in Palu, one of the epicentres of the quake. As we drove through the city, the scenes were devastating. Entire sections of the city had been flattened, like a steam roller had run right over them. We stopped next to what looked like a huge rubbish tip with mounds of crushed houses. I walked through broken streets, wondering what people had been doing in their homes when the earthquake struck, and they had to run with their children for their lives.  All around me I saw shreds of ordinary family life…… torn school books, broken cooking utensils, toys, and rags of clothes. I wondered what became of these people.

“I looked up and saw some military men carrying a body bag past me, the smell was unbearable and the reality that hundreds of people must be trapped under the mud and rubble still was all too real. 

“Our team drove to the village of Balaroa, which had been destroyed by the tsunami. When we arrived, it was like an apocalypse: entire houses had been swallowed up by the ground, there was masses of debris everywhere.  Locals gathered together, praying for those who’d just been pulled from the rubble. Further on, I saw people searching through rubble where their homes had stood, trying to recover anything that left. A young couple, 29 year old Hilda and Rahim, 30, told me ‘We were terrified when the earthquake struck and fled from our house. We have lost our parents and a sister, and now we’re looking for anything we can salvage [from the rubble].’ 

“That night, we camped next to the house of a local family, who said they were too scared to sleep inside their home, and shared their yard with us. It was a difficult night, and a reminder that all those we were serving would be living in these conditions for months to come, without proper shelter, sanitation facilities or food.

“The next day we headed to our food distribution in a displaced peoples’ camp in Donggala district. Muslim Aid distributed food packs of rice, oil, chickpeas and sardines as well as cartons of long life milk.  Muslim Aid is also distributing clean drinking water, temporary shelters, hygiene kits, and installing latrines. We had an opportunity to play with the children in the camp who seemed happy to be distracted from the difficulties they’d been through. Their endearing laughs and smiles illustrated their resilience. We met Lewi Kai, 44, who was desperately hoping for news of his wife, who had been working in a restaurant destroyed by the quake. ‘I have a 21 year old son, and I told him to pray. What else can we do?’

“Muslim Aid has been working in Indonesia since 2004, we are specialists in Disaster Risk Management and are supporting great national partner NGOs on the ground. We will continue working in Indonesia, supporting communities in need and I’m proud we have been able to respond so quickly to this disaster. 

“The tsunami death toll has now climbed to over 2,000, with another 10,600 injured. Around 5,000 people are still reported missing, and an estimated 75,400 have been internally displaced.

“Though I’ve travelled to various conflict and natural disaster zones previously, what struck me most about this situation was how accepting people were of their fate. I was taken aback by how calm and collected the survivors appeared, despite so many of them having lost numerous members of their families, their homes and their entire livelihoods. It seemed their faith had a huge part to play, many told me, ‘everything that happens comes from God, and we thank him that we are alive at least’.  Their words, composure and positivity was a lesson I leant, and will never forget. If you look closely enough, you can find the stars shining even on the darkest nights. “

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