Rising from the rubble
The conditions in Nurma Sulaiman’s tiny room in one of Nusa’s six barracks have just become a little more cramped. But neither she nor her husband and four children are complaining, because the cause of their discomfort is the arrival of a sewing machine.
“Twenty-eight of us have been given these,’’ she said.
“The aim is to get us making clothes, which we can then sell.
I’m not too skilled yet so I started by making a flag for independence day.’‘
The tailors are not alone among the residents of Nusa, the village 10km from Banda Aceh devastated by the Boxing Day tsunami, who have bene-fited from international aid agency Mercy Corps’s livelihood programme. Twenty-seven people are making cassava crackers, 22 are baking cakes, 19 are making soya products, nine are manufacturing rattan crafts, nine raising livestock and 112 growing chillies, peanuts, ginger and cassava.
“These have been one-off asset grants,’’ explained Peter Stevenson, the head of Mercy Corps’s Aceh programme. “The villagers brought us a variety of proposals and, after assessing them, we gave them the cash. The next challenge is how to get financial services up and running so we can start micro-finance projects.’‘
The feelings of increased certainty that these grants have brought, combined with the recent peace deal between the government and the separatist Free Aceh Movement, have transformed the atmosphere. Children are careering around on bicycles bought with their parents’ first earnings and there is a sense that life might get back to what it was.
“I’m feeling very happy now,’’ said eight-year-old Faisal, after screeching to a halt on his Â£30 mountain bike. “I can have fun with my friends. We’re not so sad.’‘
But the deeper sense of trauma is still far from gone, according to Muhammed, Nusa’s barracks coordinator. “A few days ago, a storm blew off the roofs of two of the barrack kitchen areas,’’ he said. “It was very frightening because we all thought we were about to endure another natural disaster.’‘
While Nusa’s reconstruction is progressing faster than in many areas in Aceh, there are still two crucial areas that will take months to sort out: rice farming and housing. Farmers should have been planting rice this month, but most of the paddy fields are under salty water, while the few above the floodline are rock hard.
“The problem for the whole sub- district is that the tsunami destroyed a crucial floodgate,’’ said Zainun Saad, the village chief. “Until this has been repaired, there is nothing stopping the water coming in and inundating our fields. We will probably have to wait until next year now, as we only get one rice crop a year.’‘
Thousands of houses have started rising from the ruins across Aceh thanks to reconstruction projects, but Nusa’s refugees will be staying in their barracks or relatives’ homes for a few months yet. After consultation with the government’s reconstruction agency, Care International has surveyed the village. It estimates 111 families will need new homes, while 25 of the remaining houses suffered severe damage and 22 slight damage.
“We have to recruit builders first and train them,’’ explained Wildan, a Care project manager. “Then they will recruit their workers. We hope to use as many of the villagers as possible.’‘
The one-storey houses will be 6m by 6m and cost about 32-million rupiah. Wildan hopes to start work by the beginning of September. “It will take about two months to build each house and we hope to have them all done by June next year,’’ he said.
Like thousands in Aceh, Ichsan Latief could not wait for formal help and started building his own house a few weeks ago. “There are two families in our barrack room, it’s overcrowded and we don’t really have anywhere to stay,’’ he said.
He borrowed eight million rupiah from a relative, sold the only one of his five cows to survive the tsunami for three million, and received about another million rupiah in donations from friends.
“A friend helped me with the plans and 10 others are helping with the building work,’’ he said. “If I had the money I could finish in two months, but I don’t have much more money so it’s not clear when I will move in.’‘
The village water supply, which was reconnected a few weeks after the tsunami, stopped working last week. “We’ve been told it’s because a pipe has burst in the hills but that doesn’t make a lot of sense as there are no hills between us and Banda Aceh,’’ said Mohammed Yassin.
Islamic Relief is sending drinking water every day in a tanker, but villagers must walk about a kilometre to the nearest river to bathe and wash their clothes.
Causing more frustration is the government’s failure to pay the refugees their monthly 90Â 000 rupiah food allowance. “We’ve only just got April’s payment, so we’re missing three installments,’’ said Yassin. “The sub-district chief says he hasn’t received the money yet, but we’re not sure. What’s clear is that it’s sitting in some bureaucrat’s account when it should have been given to us.’‘
Despite the gripes, villagers are enjoying the odd happy occasion. When The Guardian visited, the men were preparing the village for the August 17 independence day games: tug-of-war, football and greasy pole climbing. “Mercy Corps has given us four million rupiah for the festivities,’’ Saad said.
Later, people prepared for one of the first wedding parties since the tsunami. Fazri (23) married Irna Juliana (18) several weeks ago but they were only just celebrating. “We’d wanted to get married as soon as possible so we could live together but we weren’t in the mood for a party,’’ Fazri said. “Things have now changed and it seems okay to celebrate.’’—Â