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Voices from Indonesia

Dessy Handayani, midwife, at Lamteungoh clinic.
Dessy Handayani, midwife, at Lamteungoh clinic.

Set amidst the huddle of makeshift homes arrayed around Lampuuk’s towering mosque, a 24-hour medical clinic offers treatment to the sick and a lifeline to the lonely and vulnerable.

Where visitors see a bleak and empty landscape, Iswannur—a local medic who founded the Plan-funded health center after losing his own clinic to the tsunami—sees a community of survivors who need their help.

Iswannur keeps a vigilant eye on the tiny wooden hut adorned with black plastic sheets where 15 boys are staking out an uncertain and improvised existence.

“We take care of ourselves. We cook. We wash our clothes. We get ourselves to school. The roof leaks, but there’s not much we can do about that,” says orphan Rashid, 17, standing outside the shack, furnished with a broken piece of mirror, a few racks for dishes and clothes, and a transistor radio.

Aid agencies arriving shortly after the disaster were relieved that most of Aceh’s 6,000 to 10,000 orphans had found homes with extended families or others. Rashid’s group, aged from 14 to 18, is a reminder that such cobbled-together arrangements can break down.

Rashid lived for a time with an uncle in a temporary shelter but soon wanted to take his chances back in the ruins of his old village. “Our situation is not ideal. But I prefer to stay here. This is my home.”

The boys play football, watch TV at night in an open-air village center and, at times, help out at the mosque. Sometimes they visit surviving relatives or scavenge for rocks among the debris to sell to contractors.

“It’s impossible to get back to normal life…but that’s too pessimistic. It’s useless to live in sadness. We are optimistic that our lives can improve,” one young person told the researchers. “We are still in high school. We have a long journey to go. We will rebuild our future,” said another.

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