Thursday, 15 April 2010

In the field again - West Sumatra

When you are the head of a country delegation or team, it is an ongoing challenge to balance the time you spend leading from the headquarters, and giving leadership in the field where our programmes for the most vulnerable people are implemented. I have always believed the key role of a leader is to direct and motivate staff in all locations, so the vision and plans of the organisation are met. During the past four years in Indonesia I have travelled at least twice a month to the remoter parts of Indonesia, where our programmes are being implemented.

This week I spent time in West Sumatra where we are supporting the Indonesian Red Cross to build 14,500 shelters for people who lost their homes in the catastrophic earthquake late last year. The shelters are small, comfortable wooden ones that cost approximately US $ 300. These owner-driven houses are built by the owners, if they have the skills, supported by teams of Red Cross volunteers and carpenters. The houses take anywhere between 2 to 6 days to erect. Many of our staff in West Sumatra, worked for us in the Tsunami operation and gained valuable experience during the construction of Red Cross 40,000 houses, and a further 12,000 in Yogjakarta after the earthquake there in 2006. With experience, we can build cheaper and better shelters.

A Red Cross shelter in Kota Pariaman, West Sumatra.

The proud owners of a new PMI shelter with me on the right.

Most build their new home to a simple 18 square meter wooden one with cement pole foundations and sago palm roof. All of the materials are available locally and the earthquake resistant design is based on a model developed in cooperation with the local university – costing only 340 Swiss francs (318 US dollars or 237 euro).

“Shelter is a critical need after an earthquake. Getting people back into a home of their own makes a big psychological difference when recovering from such a disaster,” explains Jan Willem Wegdam, the IFRC’s Recovery Coordinator for West Sumatra Operation. Eligibility for the shelter programme depends on whether a house is severely damaged and not fit to live in. Priority is given to the elderly, the sick, families with young children and pregnant mothers, many of whom have been living in tents since the earthquake struck.

The programme is community driven with affected families actively involved from the outset. Beneficiaries receive cash grants in instalments and procure the building materials themselves. Members of the community are encouraged to help each other in the building process and Red Cross volunteers are on hand to provide technical guidance.

The Red Cross provides the funds and people are free to vary the design to suit their needs and use any extra material they may have salvaged from their old house

Creativity abounds with people varying designs and colours. I saw one house with new floor tiles and a beautiful carpet in the middle of the roon. Most have electricity and water nearby.
It was good to catch up with my old friend and colleague, Kamil Denyushev (left) from Tajikistan who is head of our logistics operation in Padang. I first worked with Kamil in Tajikistan in 1996 when we were running a winter relief operation in the Pamir mountains.

It was another tough, but enjoyable field inspection trip ( or monitoring and evaluation as they now call it) and it was a joy to work wityh my colleagues Hans, Jan and Kamil, and link up with Pak Irman and Pak Firman from PMI.

When I first arrived here we had 27 offices spread throughout Indonesia, and now it has reduced to a manageable eight.

Today I am back in Jakarta packing, dusting, discovering, reading, binning and burying five and a half years of tsunami, is an emotional and cleansing activity

 We move to the new office over the weekend so I am packing files and papers that go right back to the first day of the tsunami operation.

I brought duplicate copies of key tsunami papers from New Delhi and those, together with notes diaries, photos, DVDs which cover Maldives, India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia, so handling these have brought back a flood of memories. There are even photos I took of a 5 years tsunami memorial service at Patong Beach, where we released candle lit lanterns and cast them to the night sky.

A few tears have rolled down my dust speckled cheeks….My friends; it has been one hell of a long, hard and rocky path, but O the joy of reflection.


Marja said...

Oh Bob yes a lot of emotion must be involved in such an operation.
Good to reflect on all the good work and I love the colour of that nice looking shelter.

I am busy too at the moment being the boss in our community centre but only have to manage myself awaiting a new manager in a couple of weeks. Didn't take the job as I like teaching to much.

Ka kite ano and good luck with the move

Bob McKerrow - Wayfarer said...

The way people paint their houses says a lot.

Stick to teaching ! Teachers are difficult to come by, managers a dime a dozen.

Mick Abbott said...

Hi Bob

Just came across your blog and thought to say hi after so many years...

And also to mention I still have some slides of yours and some gear that you took on your trek in the Artic!!!

Be great to catch up sometime - what a busy interesting life that's following you

All the very best


Bob McKerrow - Wayfarer said...

Hi Mick

I sent you a private email a few minutes ago, Great to make contact with you. Bob

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