Sumatra quake: Feeding the sick

Volunteers at the St Francis of Assisi Parish, (Padang, Sumatra) including Sister Camela (middle) and Paukus (far left) Sumiami (next left) and Sri Wahyuni attend to cooking duties for the staff and patients of the Yos Sudarso Catholic Hospital which is running beyond full capicity following last weeks devostasting earthquake. Photograph by James Alcock/Caritas (c) 2009.

Volunteers at the St Francis of Assisi Parish,including Sister Camela (middle) and Paukus (far left) Sumiami (next left) and Sri Wahyuni attend to cooking duties for the staff and patients of the Yos Sudarso Catholic Hospital which is running beyond full capacity following last weeks devastating earthquake. Photograph by James Alcock/Caritas (c) 2009.

By Tim O’Connor, Caritas Australia

In Padang, Caritas local parish partners are working hard to keep the hospital running. We visited Padang Baru Parish where teams of 25-30 volunteers per shift are cooking food for the hospital patients and staff and assisting those in their own local community with aid distributions.
Lia, who speaks fluent English from her education in Australia, has traveled here from her home in Jakarta, to lend assistance. As she leads us into the buzzing kitchen the volunteers are busily working in three main groups.

In the first room, the floor is covered with piles of lemongrass, chilies, coriander, garlic, beans, carrots, potatoes and all manner of fresh produce which has been generously donated by local people. Women squat low here and on thick chopping blocks dice and slice with the sort of speed that would make a master chef envious.

“We are cooking for the 150 patients in the hospital,” said Lia. “We’re cooking breakfast, lunch and supper. The kitchens in the hospital, like the majority of the building, has been very badly damaged, so the St Francis of Assisi Parish has lent us this space”.

The second kitchen team are turning the prepped produce into meals. The kitchen is dimly lit, humid and oppressively hot. The volunteers efficiently man the burners, woks and steamers, turning out Sumatran menus including Beef Rendang, Soto (noodle soup), Ikan kari (fish curry) as well as Indonesian staples like Nasi Goreng.

The third team take the finished product and neatly wrap the meal in banana leaves which are then sealed with an outer wrapper of paper and tied with elastic bands. The meals is served within its own environmentally sound casing – the banana leaf plate saves on washing up and is fully biodegradable.

This dark, bustling kitchen seems a strange place to find an well traveled, highly educated businesswoman like Lia.

“My sister lives here in Padang and her house was very badly damaged in the earthquake. Thankfully her family is all safe,” she said.

“I came to volunteer here because I wanted to lend a hand”, said Lia. “This (cooking) is something I can do and taking one week away from my business to help is just a small gesture in helping those who need it so badly”.

Lia, like all the volunteers capture the spirit of Caritas in their work and their efforts, are making a real difference. The power of the Caritas network to gather volunteers is immense and through our combined efforts we can really make a positive improvement to lives.

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Filed under Asia, Conflicts and Disasters, Emergencies, Indonesia

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