Aceh tsunami survivors rebuild hope

Under the newly raised frames of a timber roof, a group of young men hammer away at inserting nails into floor boards.

    Aceh residents are rebuilding after the 26 December tsunami

    The potential boarding room is taking shape nicely - not a beam swaying or a pole out of line.
    Three months ago, all but one in this 20-strong team of builders had barely ever picked up a hammer.
    Now, these men are just part of the handful of survivors from Lambung, a village not more than a kilometre from the sea which was devastated in the 26 December tsunami.
    A few months later, this newly trained team of carpenters has assembled 12 houses, and a small mosque or meunasah, as part of their new mini village.

    "We know the government is sick, so we're not waiting for the government, we're all just trying to get work or do what we can," says the village's patron, and 57-year-old traditional leader Yubahar Zaini. 

    "Theses houses can stand an earthquake, they're not hot, not too cool, and they only take two to three days to build"

    Yubahar Zaini, Lambung village's traditional leader

    The 12 houses are all raised traditional style Acehnese houses but with a twist - they are constructed entirely from recycled timber left over by the deadly tsunami waves.

    The houses' main structural poles are felled coconut trunks, cleaned and sanded, the floorboards scavenged from tsunami damaged houses, and the roofing is made from sago leaves, dried out and tightly packed.
    "Theses houses can stand an earthquake, they're not hot, not too cool, and they only take two to three days to build," says Zaini.
    They were also built at minimal expense and with minimal outside help. A friend of Zaini's who was a builder, trained the men. Irish aid group Concern provided some saws, and other carpentry tools, and the only expense was transporting the recycled timber.

    Each house cost just 2 million rupiah ($220) to build. 

    Neighbours have been so impressed with this mini village - built on a private plot owned by Zaini several kilometres inland from Lambung - that the building team has even received orders to build houses for other people.
    Almost all the 30 men living here now have jobs, either as part of the new construction team, as fisherman, or boring water holes.
    Legacy of determination

    Three generations ago, Lambung was just another poor village in Banda Aceh. But Zaini's grandmother and other village grandmothers decided the only way for their children to escape poverty was to send them to school.

    Achenese villagers say they are
    not waiting for government help

    To pay for school fees these women began selling the only skill they had - cake making.
    Over time Lambung became so famous for its wedding cakes and traditional Acehnese cakes, that families from all over Aceh and even Jakarta began ordering their cakes for weddings and official events.

    The profits from cake-making were used to send two generations of Lambung's children, including Zaini, to high school and university.
    Many of Lambung's university educated residents have become penniless, and its famous cake-makers were also wiped out in the tsunami. But Zaini says even without these skilled women, Lambung can build itself up again.
    "What's important is we return to our traditions of working hard and studying. Without these we are nothing," he says.
    This village offers a chance for widowed men, and unmarried men to get back on their feet, in time hopefully re-marrying, starting a family and moving into new houses, says Zaini. 

    Standing guard

    Several kilometres away, in a far less picturesque location - close to Banda Aceh's shoreline - another determined group of men have also begun rebuilding their village of Lamjabat.

    All that are left of this once tightly packed village are hot, dusty and wind ravaged stretches of rubble, but that has not deterred Lamjabat's handful of survivors.
    Their first building was naturally a mosque - the concrete was supplied by a local aid group, and another group paid the men to take turns building it. 

    People are rebuilding from 
    recycled tsunami wreckage 

    Lines of cemara palms and coconut trees have been laid out to mark out what was once the village's main streets, and former homes. 

    Each night dozens of men and a few women camp out in Lamjabat, guarding the beginnings of their village, making sure that no one else comes to stake a claim to their land.
    Lamjabat's forward command post is one of over a dozen tent posts, started by 14 villages in this seaside district, all of whom are determined to rebuild their villages despite lack of official help and almost no money. 

    Some such as 44-year-old Nizam Khairi, have already made impressive claims. Armed with just a simple saw, a hammer borrowed from a friend, and nails pulled from demolished houses, he has built himself a small house made entirely from tsunami scavenged timber.
    Khairi, like most of Lamjabat's 200 odd survivors - out of a village of 3600 - lost his wife and three children, and is the sole survivor in his family. 
    For Khairi, working like a maniac day and night to build his house is his only way to recover from his incomprehensible loss.
    He plans to try to support himself by setting up a construction and furniture making business with other friends from Lamjabat.
    All he needs is some start-up capital or some tools, he points out.
    Trickle of aid

    But aid has been slow to trickle in, says Linda North, an English woman married to a Lamjabat native. 

    Refugees are moving out of their
    camps and returning to villages

    "People say the emergency phase is over but it's not. Now people need food, tents everything out here, because they are moving out of the camps. This is the second major refugee movement," she says. 
    The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has provided tents, and after weeks of lobbying, the village has regular deliveries of drinking water supplied by the International Rescue Committee.

    But getting food delivered to this desolate camp is still difficult, says North.
    She says that because the government is still drawing up a blueprint for Aceh, with building zones and property rights still to be clarified, many international aid groups trying to work with the government are hesitant about supporting these villages' return by providing housing or starting small building projects here. 
    Building hope

    Despite the uncertainty over whether Lamjabat and the surrounding villages will be zoned as residential areas, dozens more people have begun setting up tents or simple timber huts in the surrounding coastal villages, says North. 

    "I don't really think about another tsunami. It's not certain there will be another, but if a second tsunami does arrive, this time I feel ready. I'll just run and run, I'm not afraid anymore"

    Romi, tsunami survivor

    And Lamjabat's survivors say rebuilding is their only option, even with scientists predicting more quakes and even another tsunami for the region. 
    Romi, 28, spent five days trapped under piles of debris surrounded by dead bodies and ravenous dogs, after the 26 December tsunami.
    But he continues to camp out at Lamjabat.
    "I don't really think about another tsunami. It's not certain there will be another, but if a second tsunami does arrive, this time I feel ready. I'll just run and run, I'm not afraid anymore," he says. 

    SOURCE: Aljazeera


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