Tuesday, 17 March 2009
Commuting across the equator to work
As a boy I learned from a teacher that the equator was an imaginary lion running round the earth.
I often wondered if the imaginary lion got tired. It wasn't until I was 12 or so when I held a globe of the world in my hand and I saw the equator, and realised it was a line, not a Lion.
Twice in the past week I have commuted across the equator to work in Medan, North Sumatra, and this week to Aceh.
It's 6.30 a.m. on Wednesday 18 March. I look out the window of my Hotel across the tops of palm trees to spiky mountains. It is so tranquil. It is hard to believe over 200,000 people were killed by the tsunami in Aceh on 24 December 2004.
Having spent over one billion dollars rebuilding the lives of over 1 million people, the Red Cross still has more work to do to ensure that all communities are better off than before the Tsunami.
A woman showing a small crop she has grown through a Red Cross livelihood programme.
My role as Head of delegation of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is to coordinate the huge humanitarian efforts of 28 of our member, national Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Through strong coordination we are able to reduce overhead costs and ensure that the majority of funding goes into rebuilding the lives of Tsunami affected people at community level. Today I have a series of meetings to review our progress this year and to examine the plans for the remainder of the year.
Many of the coastal communities rely on fishing for their livelihoods. Here, is a fishing boat provided by the Red Cross.
I usually stay in a small, clean and cheap hotel called the Green Paradise but it was booked out. I am staying in an aptly named hotel 'The Oasis.' The influx of thousands of foreigners and over 7 billion US dollars of Aid money has injected a huge amount of money into the local economy, creating a lot of employment and a vibrant economy. The Tsunami brought a cessation to 25 years of conflict in Aceh and the province is quite peaceful now, The capital Banda Aceh is now a modern city with broad streets, new buildings everywhere: a new bus station, port, Mosques, high schools, polytechnic, an international airport with three overseas flights a day, quality restaurants, KFC, traffic jams and traffic lights. What makes Banda Aceh a beautiful destination is its long sandy beaches and lush green hillsides coated in jungle.
A small ferry plies the route from Banda Aceh to the off shore island of Sabang. Photo: Bob McKerrow
Last night I went our for dinner with colleagues to celebrate St. Patrick’s night and I met Roger Palmer a volunteer with the American Red Cross (ARC) Disaster Services group for domestic disaster response.
Roger Palmer getting a haircut in Aceh.
Here is Roger’s story : " My home is in Wisconsin. I'm also a roster member of the ARC IT & Telecom Emergency Response Unit (ERU) for international disaster response. One of our challenges as a member of the ERU is to keep our skills honed. I'm a retired IT professional and I'm blessed to have the time and the health to donate my efforts to a very worthy cause. "
"When the International Disaster Response team in Washington asked if anyone was interested in applying for a three month telecom delegate position to rehabilitate the Early Warning System (EWS) and disaster communication radio system in the Aceh province of Indonesia I took them up on the offer. And here I am - eight weeks down and four to go. It's been a wonderful opportunity to make a lasting contribution to the Indonesia Red Cross (PMI) and to improve the skills that I will need in the field in an emergency. It's also a golden opportunity to see a part of the world that normally I would never get to visit and meet the people. My view of people who practice Islam is forever changed by the many great people I have met and worked with here in Aceh, a 95% Muslim population."
"Even though this is not an emergency (the tsunami struck over 4 years ago) I believe the ARC IT/Telecom ERU has an important role to play in Red Cross national society capacity building to provide the infrastructure and training needed to respond to the next disaster. We would like to hope it won't happen but know it will. "
Roger's blog is an interesting one on his travels and work in Indonesia.