In a temporary tent village on the tsunami-devastated coast of Sri Lanka, a village chief held a stack of papers. Each documented the simple needs of his people more than two months after a 25-foot tidal wave destroyed everything they had.
One paper, representing a villager who used to make a living delivering fish, listed two items: a bicycle and an icebox. The paper of a fisherman requested only a boat. A third paper noted that a mechanic will need tools to rebuild his life.
The chief handed these papers to a Latter-day Saint assessment team sent recently to southern Asia. It wouldn't take much, the team concluded, to put the entire village back to work.
The Church of Jesus Christ is here now, they told the village chief, and its humanitarian representatives are not going home until Sri Lanka and the other disaster areas have been rebuilt.
The assessment team traveled to southern Asia after a Dec. 26 tsunami, triggered by a 9.0 magnitude earthquake, killed more than 220,000 people in a dozen nations, including Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Thailand and India. The disaster also set into motion what the United Nations has called the "world's biggest-ever relief operation."
Like the many nations and organizations providing relief, the Church responded immediately with emergency relief, sending water, food, medical supplies, clothing, tents and body bags. Local members in each of the countries — and in Hong Kong — assembled hygiene and personal kits for the victims. They purchased kitchen supplies, tarps and clothing.
In total it is estimated that during the emergency relief period, from the time of the disaster through Feb. 28, the Church's efforts helped nearly 300,000 people and included more than 6,000 hours of donated service from members, said Elder Subandriyo, an Area Authority Seventy in the Asia Area.
But after a phenomenal response by members to a Churchwide fast for tsunami victims in January, Church leaders also committed to help provide long-term assistance.
In Indonesia, for example, the Church worked in cooperation with the Ministry of Health to provide needed medical equipment and furnishings to restore 10 rooms in the Zainoel Abidin General Hospital in Banda Aceh — including the emergency room and four surgery rooms, said Elder Subandriyo. In that city alone, crews are still removing between 200 and 300 bodies each day from the piles of debris.
The Church also provided major improvements to a mental hospital damaged by the tsunami and purchased ambulances and other transport vehicles for these facilities.
In addition, project proposals have been submitted for the construction of homes and community buildings, for sewing machines and the construction of sewing centers, for fishing boat construction, for trauma counseling support, and for school buses to transport children from relocation sites, said Elder Subandriyo. Other project proposals are being prepared for further assistance in restoration of medical facilities, for construction of medical clinics, for livelihood restoration, for clean water systems/support, and orphanage support, he added.
However, those involved in the Church's response — which does not include any proselytizing — note that all these efforts take time.
Elder Stanley Wan, Asia Area welfare director and an Area Authority Seventy, said sending relief is complicated. Many challenges exist, he said, because of the number of different countries affected and the number of government and non-governmental organizations with which the Church must partner. And the Church will be sensitive to local religions and ways.
"An important element in the Church's response, both emergency and recovery phases, has been the sensitivity to the cultural and spiritual needs of the people affected," wrote Elder Subandriyo and Elder Thomas Palmer, Welfare Services country director in Indonesia, in a statement to the Church News. "The Church's relief effort has been well received because it is clear that we have no political or religious agenda other than helping our brothers and sisters in their time of need."
The Latter-day Saint effort, for example, has included the construction of mosques and the donation of mukenah (prayer covering for women), prayer rugs, and the Quran to those in need. In addition, Church leaders have partnered with Islamic organizations in their efforts to provide for the needs of those who are suffering.
"The Church's genuine offering of love for our Muslim brothers and sisters in Indonesia has been graciously accepted," wrote Elder Subandriyo and Elder Palmer. "Government officials seek the Church's support in areas of sensitivity because they acknowledge our respect for their rights and needs. In the areas where the Church has provided needed emergency supplies on several occasions, 'the contributions of The Church of Jesus Christ' to their villages was acknowledged to the people over the loudspeaker from Mosques. We have felt the kinship of our Islamic brothers and sisters in this relief effort and know our Father in Heaven has acknowledged their needs and their prayers."
Yet there is so much yet to be done, they wrote. While there is a concerted effort by government and non-government agencies to provide support for children, for example, the task is overwhelming, they added. There are an estimated 40,000 children orphaned by the tsunami in Indonesia alone.
"Our observation is, however, that the children have demonstrated resilience beyond imagination as they reach out to other children, laugh, play, sing and return to school," wrote Elder Subandriyo and Elder Palmer.
No where can the impact of the tsunami be seen more clearly than a temporary village in Indonesia, said Rich McKenna, director of Church Humanitarian Services. Once inhabited by 910 people, today there are 344, including only 24 children. The village chief reported to the Church assessment team that he lost his mother, father, brothers, sisters, wife and two sons. Only one of his sons survived.
Before the tsunami most villagers made bricks and sold coffee. A small contribution from the Church, said Brother McKenna, can get both businesses going again.
Helping with reconstruction and livelihood issues are solutions that are sustainable, Brother McKenna added. It is one way the Church can and will combat the "pain you see, you feel and you never forget," he said.
Elder Subandriyo said he feels deep gratitude for those who made the Church's efforts possible by responding to President Gordon B. Hinckley's invitation to fast and "give generously" to those affected by the tsunami.
"We have shared the message of the fast, the faith, and the generous offering of the saints with media, government leaders and many non-governmental agencies who have asked how the Church can do so much in its relief effort," he and Elder Palmer wrote. "We have also felt the burden and sacred trust that have been placed on us in properly administering these sacred offerings and have fasted and prayed that we will provide the offering of relief that would be consistent with the Lord's will. We have felt the Spirit guiding our efforts in a very beautiful way."
E-mail to: [email protected]