When an overseas natural disaster occurs, the images can fade quickly from view, and life often goes on as normal for folks like me here in Australia. We don’t have to worry about the questions that might plague a survivor, like: ‘who is going to help me find shelter?’ ‘What will I do for clean water over the next few days?’ ‘How long will these images keep me from getting a good night’s sleep?’ and so on.
Having just completed my first official visit to TLM, one of our partners in Indonesia, I was running through and trying to answer the questions above before I even arrived. We met people whose homes were literally swallowed up by the earth or were shaken to the ground by the earthquake, and my expectations were exceeded and brought home the reality of what I thought I knew.
Pak Rozali – TLM’s director - organised a visit to Palu, a city which on September 28, 2018 was struck with an earthquake that caused a tsunami, soil liquefaction and numerous buildings to collapse. At first glance, it appears that the residents have bounced back far quicker than my preconceived expectations. Temporary shelters are now becoming more like homes, men and women have started working again, and TLM (who have a branch in Palu) want to pick up where the initial emergency response is ramping down.
We met Ibu Melani, a young mother, in one of the temporary camps set up for the survivors who lost their homes. Ibu Melani has had to deal with the deaths of 25 neighbours and family members in the wake of the liquefaction. At first glance, her situation might seem positive now – she’s cutting up sections of plant frond to sell for cake decorations - but in reality there are times at night where sleep just won’t come because she worries about how and where her husband will find work, and where they’ll move to before the temporary camp closes in two years’ time. The next day we met with Pak Oko – another survivor - on the plot of land he’s renting for his current crop of tomatoes. It covers a large area, and anyone would think he’s firmly back on track and flourishing. But this natural disaster has affected him deeply, having lost not only his house and farm, but his mother, father and brother. He mentions that he wants to run away to West Papua to get away from the daily reminder of what happened. But his wife has strong ties in Palu, and so they’ll lose something either way.
These are just two stories from a city that is a mix of people largely unaffected by the earthquake and those deeply impacted by it. It’s a reality that is so far removed from my life and experiences here in Australia, but is brought a little closer after being there physically and talking to the people who have survived.
As I get back in the daily reality of life back home, I’m left with the question of what to do from here? I have to remember that I’m in a position to help, and we invite you to join Amos Australia and TLM with the work we hope to do in Palu, as there is still plenty of reconstruction work to be done (physical, spiritual and mental). In the coming months, Amos Australia hopes to work out with Pak Rozali what our response might look like, and we would appreciate your prayers for God’s guidance in making these tough decisions, as the work required far outstrips our ability and resources. We can’t repair everything that needs restoring in Palu, but we do hope to uncover the particular 'work that God has prepared in advance for us to do’ there, and then we hope to do that work well – as best we can – so that folks like Ibu Melani and Pak Oko will know that the world hasn’t forgotten them, but that they are loved and supported by their Australian family in the south.
- Joel Bruning, National Relationship Officer, Amos Australia.