By Conor O’Loughlin, Trocaire (Caritas Ireland)
This time last week, Ilham Zakirman was in school like any normal eight year old. Today he is begging on the road outside the ruins of his home.
The quake struck just after 5pm and, after a day at school, Ilham was out in the fields with his father cutting grass. When the tremors subsided they ran to where their homes stood in the village of Sungai Sarik. Instead of their house, all they saw was rubble.
“I was so scared when the earthquake struck,” he said, perched on a wobbly block of rubble that used to form the wall of his house. “My mother was standing by the roadside crying. My sister was crying out Ibaiba! Ibaiba! (Parents! Parents!). Everyone was crying.” He looked bashful as I asked him to tell me more. He eventually admitted: “Even I was crying.”
The whole family dashed to their grandfather’s house, down the road and near the field where the children played football. “We saw all the houses collapsed and everybody was screaming in shock,” he said.
His mother Javiar still seems traumatised, listessly holding her youngest daughter to her breast as she speaks.
“I was having a bath when it happened. I jumped out and ran outside after quickly covering myself. For a while I couldn’t breathe, I was so worried. I almost fainted with fear. The air was full of dust and all I could sense was screaming. Nothing but screaming, all around me.
“Just after I got outside, my house collapsed beside me. It made me so sad. I lost all of our clothes and all of our furniture and everything we owned was inside. Then straight away it started raining. I didn’t know what to do. That night we slept in a makeshift shed that my husband built from the debris. But it was hot in there and the rain came right in on top of us.
The family soon realised that the make-shift shelter wouldn’t be enough to keep a young family dry and safe. They have pitched a plastic tarpaulin to some trees beside where their house stood, and that is their home for the time being. But the children are already suffering. Adri, the baby, has an infection on her mouth and is refusing milk. Ilham has a sore-looking rash all over his body from the damp. And his other little sister, Isil, has had a fever almost continuously since the first night in the shack. For her own part, Javiar says that she has had a pounding headache ever since the quake struck.
With the local schools all in ruins, Ilham and other boys from the village have taken to the roadside, waving boxes at passing traffic and asking for assistance – food, water or money. When asked about how he felt about doing this he tell of how hungry he was for the first couple of days after the earthquake when the family had no food nor money to buy it.
“Now I help my mother to buy rice,” he says, “and that I like.”