Five years ago Belfast Telegraph readers raised almost £300,000 in response to the devastation wreaked in Asia by the Boxing Day tsunami. UTV’s Paul Clark reports from the hard-hit Banda Aceh region of Indonesia on how your money has been spent rebuilding communities
Many people will be able to tell you where they were when they heard about the tsunami on Boxing Day 2004. I was at my brother-in-law’s home in Antrim, having had a late lunch. Being a news junkie I switched on the television to see what was happening in the world. I heard a familiar voice, ITN correspondent John Irvine — a former colleague.
He was speaking, on the phone, about a gigantic wave which had come ashore in Thailand where he was holidaying with his family. That bulletin mentioned devastation in a part of Indonesia I’d never heard of, Banda Aceh.
A huge earthquake had occurred off the western coast of Sumatra and Banda Aceh, the closest major city to the earthquake’s epicentre, suffered major damage.
But worse was to come when the tsunami struck soon afterwards, damaging buildings as it came ashore and causing them to crumble as it receded.
It also sucked thousands of cars and people out to sea.
The effects were felt across the Indian Ocean, but nowhere as bad as in Banda Aceh. It was one of the deadliest natural disasters in history.
Video: After the tsunami
A huge international effort swung into action and, on the front line, the charity Unicef, which had already been at work in the area, moved to help.
I have been a Unicef Goodwill Ambassador since 2003. Five months after the disaster I travelled to Banda Aceh with the Belfast Telegraph in my new role to see, at first hand, the rebuilding of children’s lives.
At that time there was an overwhelming public fundraising response to help lives shattered in all countries hit by the tsunami. Unicef UK raised almost £13 million while Belfast Telegraph readers donated a remarkable £298,000 through a campaign.
This much-needed money was channelled into the ravaged region, helping prevent an outbreak of major disease after the disaster. It provided safe drinking water, medicines and helped reunite families torn apart. But your money was also vital in Unicef’s long-term programme to rebuild lives and communities in Indonesia.
This month, to mark the fifth anniversary of the tsunami, I returned to Aceh to see the work that had been done through your fundraising.
Unicef has focused on healthcare, water, sanitation and hygiene, education and child protection. It has been involved in the reconstruction of health centres, schools and water sanitation systems.
In 2005 I visited schools under canvas because the buildings had disappeared. Nearly five years on I heard about new state-of-the-art schools built to withstand earthquakes.
One such new build is School Muhammadiyah, constructed by Unicef to replace one completely destroyed by the tsunami.
There I met Hafiz (11), one of the pupils delighted with the new school.
“Now I can do a lot of work. In the past my family had to buy books and equipment, now they are supplied,” he said.
He tells me he wants to be a doctor “so that I can help people, treat them and heal them”. And his teacher says this is a realistic ambition.
I also meet Roza who wants to be a policewoman.
This little girl was six when “the sea came ashore”. Her family managed to scramble to higher ground but her father was not so lucky. His body was found some days later.
The school’s vice-principal Lailawati described the immediate aftermath of the tsunami as “chaotic”.
“We only realised that teachers and pupils were not going to return when they did not show up again after a month,” she said.
Before I leave the school I am interested to find out what English the children learn in class and they are as keen to practise.
Hafiz asks: “What is your name?”
Roza says: “How are you today?”
I reply in English, and am keen to practice my limited Indonesian vocabulary — “Sampai jumpa” See you later.
I also went to school SDN 34 to see how Unicef has helped rebuild the education system there.
One of its vice principals, Sakdiah, tells me how a new building has replaced three schools destroyed or severely damaged.
It is here I am confronted by the painful reality of life in Banda Aceh.
I learn about one school where 76 pupils and 11 teachers survived out of 310 and 76 respectively. How do you begin to take that in?
Sakdiah becomes distressed as she tells us of her family. Twenty of her relatives died. We hear stories about personal and professional loss.
The legacy of what happened five years ago hasn’t gone away. Research carried out with children aged 11 reveals that 80% are still traumatised, especially when there is an earthquake.
Unicef relies entirely on voluntary |contributions to carry out work worldwide. To make a donation, telephone 0800 037 9797 or log on to www.unicef.org.uk/tsunami5-BT .
Your donations aid their recovery
The sheer scale of the death and destruction caused by the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami is impossible to fathom, even five years on.
Nearly 230,000 people were killed — the majority of them women and children — when the massive wave smashed into the coastline of 12 countries around the Indian Ocean.
The December 26 tsunami was sparked by a 9.2-magnitude earthquake at sea, near Sumatra, before it raced across the Indian Ocean.
Sri Lanka, Thailand and Somalia were hit but it was the Aceh province of Indonesia, closest to the quake epicentre, which suffered most damage.
The quake initially toppled many homes and buildings. But 20 minutes later a wall of water up to six stories high buried thousands of people in thick black mud and leaving others to scramble desperately out of its path.
Communities were devastated, livelihoods destroyed, homes, schools and heath facilities simply washed away. Some 400,000 were left homeless.
In the aftermath of the tragedy the Belfast Telegraph joined forces with Unicef, the United Nation’s charity for worldwide emergency and development work for children, to launch a fundraising appeal. The response from readers was overwhelming and almost £300,000 was raised.
The Belfast Telegraph joined Paul Clark in 2005 to travel to Banda Aceh to see how the money was being used to fund Unicef’s emergency response.
And five years on your donations are still making a huge difference in people’s lives.
With the help of £13m raised by the charity in the UK, it launched one of the biggest reconstruction programmes in its history. More than 1,000 projects in education, health, child protection and water sanitation have been completed in Indonesia, to the benefit of hundreds of thousands of people.