Woven into Indonesia's landscapes are powerful reminders of the tsunami that devastated the area 17 months ago.
In a neighborhood of Banda Aceh — about a half a mile from the ocean — a large fishing boat sits atop a home. On the east coast of Aceh Province, a grandmother and granddaughter stand near remains of what was once their home; the shells of neighbors' homes are not far away. Miles after miles of the country's coast still reveal empty foundations where villages once stood.
"For months after the tsunami, the coast around Banda Aceh was like a barren wasteland," said William Reynolds, director of Church tsunami relief. "Today," he said, "most of the debris has been cleaned up and grass and plants are growing again." But there is still evidence of the destructive force that changed this and other nations of Southeast Asia on Dec. 26, 2004.
The Church went to work in the region after a 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."
More than a year after that relief effort began, the Church is still there. After offering emergency response, LDS Humanitarian Services began working with community based organizations to provide longer-term aid and development. Today, the Church continues to partner with major humanitarian organizations. Working with Islamic Relief Worldwide, the International Organization for Migration, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency, and International Relief and Development, the Church is constructing homes, schools, health clinics and water and sanitation systems in Indonesia.
The Church's work in the area is the organization's most significant humanitarian effort to date — fueled by the fast offerings of members and contributions from others in responding to a request from the First Presidency and marking the first time the organization has offered long-term assistance after a disaster.
The Church's current projects in Indonesia include:
"We are focused on doing the right thing, the right way," said Brother Reynolds. "We want to build good houses and good schools. Partnering with well-known and proven organizations greatly facilitates that effort and ultimately increases our ability to bless people's lives."
As with all the Church's humanitarian efforts, the principles of self-reliance are woven into tsunami projects as much as is possible, said Brother Reynolds.
For example, the Church's home-building project includes hiring community members to do much of the labor. They will help in building their own home and the homes of fellow villagers, thereby boosting the local economy "as we draw on a labor force that is invested in the project."
In addition, Church and partner representatives meet with the village community before construction begins, so they understand what will happen. The Church will provide materials and opportunity to build a community center, if the residents provide the labor. Brother Reynolds said the Church believes this effort will draw the community together as they are involved in the project.
Finally, recipients of new homes will choose the color of paint for their homes and paint the homes themselves.
"We are here not just to help people, but to help people help themselves," said Brother Reynolds. "We want to develop a program where we not only meet an immediate need, but also develop long-term capacity in individuals, families and the community."
In addition to these projects in Indonesia, the Church is continuing to complete community projects in the other tsunami-affected countries of Sri Lanka and Thailand. For example, in Sri Lanka the Church is building 650 boats. Also in Sri Lanka, small micro-credit loans are being issued to hundreds of women, formed into groups of five, to support each other in various livelihood efforts.
Brother Reynolds said, "We always tell recipients about the sacred funds that make the Church's efforts possible. We tell them a living prophet asked Church members to fast and pray for tsunami victims. The funds are sacred because they are free-will donations entrusted to the Church to help those in great need."
In Indonesia, "the predominately Muslim community members receiving assistance understand the law of the fast," he added. "It resonates with these people when we explain the principles behind the contributions that allow us to be in their village doing this good. I am very grateful for this and other principles that Islam and the restored gospel share in common, allowing us to bless one another's lives."
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