By Nurul Harnadi, Susila Dharma France Entraide

Fay Diba is the director of the Palu programme supervised by Yayasan Usaha Mulia (YUM) which provided emergency aid in Palu after the tsunami of September 29, 2018.

Fay and children

Fay was supported by YUM which was able to place its faith in her because of her experience dealing with three previous disasters in Indonesia.

Fay very kindly agreed to answer our questions before leaving for the 5th mission of her team on January 25th and tell us about her experience in the Sulawesi Central Province (formerly known as Celebes) and explain the current needs of the programme.

Fay has 8 people working with her: 5 on site in Sulawesi and 3 from Jakarta who accompany her during the visits and often stay there after she has returned to Jakarta to prepare for the next visit. All are volunteers and part of the budget covers their expenses.

Fay, can you please introduce yourself? How did you decide to go and support the victims of the tsunami in Palu and Dongala?

My name is Farah Diba Agustin. I have been on the board of Susila Dharma Indonesia for several years and on the board of YUM for one year. Just after the disaster (September 29, 2018), I told Olvia (French member living for more than 40 years in Indonesia, YUM president for the past 10 years) and Vanessa (YUM executive director for the past year) that we had to help the victims of this disaster. Their response (and that of other YUM Board members) to both was amazing; they immediately asked me to be the coordinator of a rescue team that would leave as soon as possible for Palu. YUM had previous experience of emergency assistance at the time of the Aceh tsunami (26 December 2004).

Trauma relief activity with children

How did you organize the emergency aid mission from Jakarta?

We met several times in the YUM office, took Subud Youth members and other concerned people to these meetings.  I contacted several NGOs who had already arrived there. We also contacted the regional and central governments to learn more about the damage and extent of the disaster.

What did you discover on arrival in Palu and Donggala, what struck you at the scene of the disaster?

We left 3 weeks after the disaster. Entering the city of Palu was like entering a ghost town, electricity was not restored and clean water was rationed in very small quantities. People did not want to go back to their homes and lived in tents because there were still tremors shaking the ground almost every day. They were terrorized.

The Palu disaster is one of the most distressing, because in addition to the tsunami, there have been earthquakes and liquefaction of the soil. Until now the bodies of thousands have not been found because they were buried during liquefaction.

How did you organize your relief action on the spot?  

We had agreed to focus on the distribution of basic necessities and post-traumatic healing actions. We wanted to reach refugee populations who had received very little, if any, help. We went to villages that rescuers had not been able to reach because of landslides and muddy roads, but we managed to get there with ease and fluidity. So we distributed help to victims who had not yet been rescued. And what was quite incredible was that many people entrusted us with relief packs so that we could distribute to a greater number of victims; thus the number of victims assisted exceeded our projections. (2500 families!)

In a refugee camp

We distributed essential goods: dry foods (thousands of packets of rice and dry meats were made in Jakarta and brought to Palu), powdered milk, rice, mineral water, hygiene products, medicines, towels, blankets, mattresses, tents, etc. We also established community kitchens in several relief posts so that refugees could cook and eat together.

How did you reach the affected villages? Where did you stay during your missions?

We rented a car, a truck and a van to reach the affected populations. We slept with the refugees in tents during our first and second missions. During our third mission to Palu, we slept in the aid station that we rented as a reserve and coordinating office with the volunteers.

What needs did you identify during your first mission? 

During our first mission, we spotted the villages that we have been assisting in a continuous and regular way. There are, for example, two very special places: Saloya where there are about 22 families (100 people) and Amal Donggala with 25 families (120 people). The members of these two communities were expelled and had to re-establish a new camp 3 times, the last being in the middle of the forest. The owners do not want to rent their land because they belong to a particular ethnic group (the Kaili) with a different culture and way of life (formerly animist). At the moment, we are specifically dealing with 45 families from these two communities that we support and with whom we are looking for a model of local and sustainable development.

How many missions have you accomplished since October?

We went there four times, and we leave on the 25th of January for Palu, Dongala and Sigi. We will stay there until the 31st of January.

What are the needs on the spot now, in January 2019, and what is your plan of action with YUM for 2019?

The priority now is to help people return to work and become independent again. YUM will supervise the construction of temporary shelters for 45 families* and we are also working with local NGOs to build 70 temporary shelters in the Sirenja Donggala area.

* YUM has received a donation of US$33,000 from GlobalGiving specifically for the construction of these houses + a public kitchen and sanitation building.

We will continue with a sustainable community development program and I hope people will have a happy smile on their face when we leave Palu.  Of the 68,000 houses that have been destroyed, the government has only been able to rebuild 20,000 so far. So there are still gigantic needs!

Can you tell us more about your trauma healing actions? 

We carry out activities to help women and children to overcome the traumas of this disaster: with children, it is mainly drawings, stories, relaxation. When we spot drawings that denote inner suffering, we refer these children to psychologists.

With teens, this is more through discussion groups where we encourage them to express themselves freely and tell us what they witnessed; this is usually followed by a relaxation exercise and yoga to manage stress.

We also focus on women, the pillars of the family in my opinion, as it is very important that they should be free of stress. We initiate discussions in the community kitchens of the refugee camps and we show them relaxation exercises also to bring down the anxiety when it occurs.

Can you share with us any particular memories of your missions in Central Sulawesi Province? 

When we arrived among the stricken populations, we felt integrated, they accepted us as theirs. They no longer saw the goods we brought, but the feeling of brotherhood. When we got back to Jakarta, some women were crying, children were screaming “come back soon!” “Do not forget us!” …. it was like they did not want us to leave. For our third mission there, women had prepared a welcome meal because we were the only ones to come three times. The volunteers of the other NGOs have only been there once. For me it is an extraordinary experience.  Currently, only YUM, ACT and FORBES NGOs continue to help the victims there.

Let’s support the work of Fay Deeba and her Emergency and Reconstruction Program team in Palu to help the people of Palu and Dongala return to a normal life!