By Laura Sheahen, Catholic Relief Services
As hard as I try to skirt broken glass and shattered roof tiles, my footsteps crackle as our Caritas USA (Catholic Relief Services – CRS) team moves through a quake-damaged village in Indonesia. In many alleyways, there’s simply nowhere else to walk.
Seventy-two hours after the powerful quake struck, Caritas has already distributed thousands of blankets, lamps, tarps and more to villagers who fled their collapsing homes. Our crew is now surveying the damage, trying to figure out which houses might be made livable and which ones can’t be salvaged.
Mostly with their bare hands, men are working on the less-damaged buildings, trying to mend roofs. I see no wheelbarrows, few tools, and zero ladders; how did they get up there?
Food and water are available, but most of the men working in the sun are hungry and thirsty. It’s Ramadan, when observant Muslims abstain from food and drink during daylight hours. That means the men ate at around 4 am, and won’t eat again until after sunset.
Talking to dozens of women and children whose only home now is a large army tent, I ask if they’re fasting too. “Of course!” they chorus, smiling. I see families sitting on blankets in their debris-strewn yards, breaking the day’s fast with a meal as festive as they can make it. Even in the midst of destruction, the celebration brings joy.
But the days are dragging by and there’s no sign of how soon people in the tent camps will be able to leave. Children sit with their mothers on dusty mattresses; their school was damaged too, so there are no classes. “We’re worried it will be worse in October, the rainy season,” says one woman. “I want my house to be like it was before,” says an elderly grandmother.
As residents rebuild, Caritas will share its engineers’ experience and distribute tools. “Caritas plans to provide things like nails, hammers, wheelbarrows, spades, and shovels,” says Yenni Suryani, Country Team Leader for CRS Indonesia. The tools will be for short-term cleanup of debris now and reconstruction soon. “The people are eager to fix their houses,” continues Suryani. “They just need the tools to make it happen.”