Indonesia: Out of the ashes, CWS helps Merapi communities 'start over'

Reti, a mother of two, fled her home moments after feeling the earth-rattling rumble of the erupting volcano beneath her house, spewing smoke, ash and stone for miles.

Reti and her youngest.
Photo: Matt Hackworth/CWS

By Ilmi Suminar and Matt Hackworth/CWS

Mt. Merapi, Java, Indonesia – Reti, a mother of two, fled her home moments after feeling the earth-rattling rumble of the erupting volcano beneath her house, spewing smoke, ash and stone for miles.

“I ran with the others to a nearby field,” Reti says. “That evacuation site is where I stayed for 30 days.”

On a cloudy day where rain threatened to turn heaps of ash into thick mud, Reti says the Church World Service Hygiene Kit she received was incredibly helpful. “I want to buy these things, but I can’t work, so this helps me keep clean,” she says. Reti’s home was spared but the October eruption has kept her and hundreds of others from earning a living and returning to normal.

The volcano, one of the most active in the world, began its first big eruption in centuries on October 26, when it spewed hot ash and affected four districts in Yogyakarta and Central Java. It has claimed 259 people’s lives, hospitalized 509 people and destroyed hundreds of houses. Another two big eruptions November 4 and 5 forced 367,548 people to flee their homes, according to the Indonesia’s National Disaster Management Agency.

CWS joined partners KYPA, Mitra Alam, and L-Paska to respond in three districts, Klaten, Boyolali and Magelang in Central Java, distributing 331 CWS emergency blankets, 317 CWS Hygiene Kits, 268 Baby Care Kits, 80 School Kits and 100 sleeping mats to 15 villages in the three districts.

Mt Merapi volcano
Mt. Merapi, now idle, displaced more than 360,000 people with several eruptions since October.
Photo: Matt Hackworth/CWS

For years the Javanese have lived in balance between the lush, fertile land that sustains them and the hazard of living close to the volcano. “It would be hard for us to move out of here,” says Waluyo, a farmer standing near his burned down house. “We know that after all the disasters we would eventually make our fortune here. This place would be much more fertile and we would be able to start over.”

Distributing hygiene, baby care and school kits is only part of the CWS response to the disaster. Eight sessions of recreational activities for children have been conducted in Sidorejo Village, Klaten, as part of psychosocial support that CWS always includes in its disaster response.  “We found out that children were afraid of the volcano eruption,” CWS Program Officer Nofri Raco said. “We wanted to make children feel safer and to give them something to do.”

Children participating in the CWS psychosocial program sing, dance and play games to help them in their recovery.
Photo: Hackworth/CWS

On a sunny afternoon, 30 kids gathered at a neighbor's house to play, sing and draw. “This is a very useful program,” said Rina Setyaningsih, a mother of one of the kids. “The children come here and they play and see their friends and forget about things for a little while.” Children have returned to school, providing a sense of vital normalcy in their day.  As the CWS psychosocial program concludes, the agency has trained local volunteers in how to provide psychological first aid should Merapi erupt again.

CWS and ACT Alliance are providing shelters, water and sanitation facilities for 1000 vulnerable people, as well as disaster management training for local partners. The CWS program here will last for another 11 months, helping the Merapi survivors to start over.


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