Tuesday, 27 May 2008

How the other half dies

I have been working with poverty and poverty alleviation for almost 30 years. Many of my colleagues have rcently returned from Chad, Niger, Sudan, Afghanistan and Iraq and talk to me with a mixture of sadness and anger at the poverty they see. I regularly see it here in pockets in Indonesia.

After some time in India in the early 1980's, I was apalled with the poverty I saw. As an individual and working for a humanitarian organisation you can only do so much. What changed me greatly was a hard hitting book called "How the Other Half Dies
The Real Reasons for World Hunger " by Susan George

Hunger is not a scourge but a scandal. This is the premise of Susan George's classic study of world hunger. Contrary to popular opinion, malnutrition and starvation are not the result of over-population, of poor climate or lack of cultivatable land. The reason why hunger exists on such a vast scale is because world food supplies are controlled by the rich and powerful for the wealthy consumer. The multinational agribusiness corporations, Western governments with their food 'aid' policies and supposedly neutral multilateral development organizations share responsibility for the fate of the undeveloped countries. Working with local elites, protected by the powerful West, the United States paves the way and is gradually imposing its control over the whole planet. How the Other Half Dies was written after the World Food Conference in 1974.

I would like to introduce you to how people spend money on food and it really is a question of the rich getting richer, and the poor getting poorer. I joined the Red Cross when I was 22 when I felt so angry at my own Government's policy in Vietnam. I was there when Vietnam reunified as a country. That was a pleasure to see. So let's look at what people buy/eat on a weekly basis in different parts of the world. And what can we do as individuals ?

Look At The Food They Bought For One Week And The Number Of Persons In The Family

The Melander family of Bargteheide - 2 adults, 2 teenagers
Food expenditure for one week: 375.39 Euros or $500.07

The Revis family of North Carolina - 2 adults, 2 teenagers
Food expenditure for one week: $341.98

The Ukita family of Kodaira City - 2 adults, 2 teenagers
Food expenditure for one week: 37,699 Yen or $317.25

The Manzo family of Sicily - 2 adults, 3 kids
Food expenditure for one week: 214.36 Euros or $260.11

The Casales family of Cuernavaca - 2 adults, 3 kids
Food expenditure for one week: 1,862.78 Mexican Pesos or $189.09

The Sobczynscy family of Konstancin-Jeziorna - 4 adults, 1 teenager
Food expenditure for one week: 582.48 Zlotys or $151.27

The Ahmed family of Cairo - 7 adults, 5 kids
Food expenditure for one week: 387.85 Egyptian Pounds or $68.53

The Ayme family of Tingo - 4 adults, 5 teenagers
Food expenditure for one week: $31.55

The Namgay family of Shingkhey Village - 7 adults, 6 kids
Food expenditure for one week: 224.93 ngultrum or $5.03

The Aboubakar family of Breidjing Camp - 3 adults, 3 kids
Food expenditure for one week: 685 CFA Francs or $1.23

What can we do about ? Would be interested in your feedback.


Monday, 26 May 2008

A Red Cross Heroine from France

Corinne Treherne, the International Federation transitional shelter programme’s coordinatorhands a present to children's beneficiares during the closing ceremony of the programme in Banda Aceh, Indonesia.

Some of us have had the privilege to come across amazingly skilled women who can communicate and implement with communities in our humanitarian work. One French woman, Corinne Treherne, has made the greatest impression on me in the last decade. She is my modern day Joan of Arc, a sort of Angel. What an achievement! Building teams to assist her construct 20,000 houses and giving 100,000 people a home after the devastating tsunami which killed over 170,000 people in Indonesia on 24 December 2004..

Early this year, the International Federation’s landmark transitional shelter programme in Aceh came to a close, with the last of the almost 20,000 shelters being completed on remote Simeulue Island. A short time ago, my colleage Vina Agustina sat down with Corinne Treherne, the programme’s coordinator, to look back on the programme and to talk about its successes, challenges and lessons.

One of the 20,000 houses that Corinne supervised the construction

Question (Q): First of all, can you tell us about the background of this programme? When did it start, and what prompted it?

When completed, the house owners show their individuality by decorating it with their colours and designes

Answer (A): The programme began in 2005. Towards the end of 2005, about 67,000 people were still living in dilapidated tents, which needed to be replaced. At the same time, tsunami affected-people were eager to rejoin their communities, and we knew that it was going to take a significant amount of time for permanent houses to be built.

Therefore, we devised a way to improve community life while people were waiting for their new permanent homes. In November 2005, the first prototype of the transitional shelter arrived at the Banda Aceh office. The transitional shelter team then made some improvements to the design to make it more appropriate to local needs and logistics.

Q : There have been a lot of actors involved in this programme: the International Federation secretariat, Red Cross and Red Crescent societies and a number of non-Red Cross Red Crescent partners. How have you managed to make sure that everything is coordinated, and that the implementation has been consistent?

A : First of all, we shared the design of the shelter with all agencies involved in the tsunami operation, and with the United Nations. At first, we had weekly meetings, and then the coordination became more intensive and interactive, by phone and email, as we started to ship and build the shelters.

Q : Throughout the programme, a lot of work was done to communicate with communities about where and when the shelters would be built. Can you tell me a bit about these efforts?

A : In the beginning, we disseminated information through the organizations helping us build the shelters, so that they could deliver it to the targeted communities. We also broadcast information via local and national media. We also had a team of 24 supervisors staying in the targeted areas. Their presence eased the implementation process.

The transitional shelters have really improved community life, as they can be used for accommodation, extension of permanent houses or even for income generation if they are converted into kiosks.
Q : What kind of feedback have you had from communities?

A : Communities have responded very positively, and we have had many individual requests for the shelters. In August 2007, we conducted a satisfaction survey, funded by the Irish Red Cross, and the results indicated that about 99 per cent of people living in transitional shelters think that the programme was extremely important to rebuilding their livelihoods. It had provided them with a viable shelter alternative while permanent solutions were being prepared.

Throughout the programme, a lot of work was done to communicate with communities about where and when the shelters would be built.
Q : We often hear of the challenges facing tsunami recovery operations and I’m sure that the transitional shelter programme has been no different. What are some of the challenges that you have had to overcome? How have you addressed them?

A : Three major challenges emerged during the running of the programme. The first involved the identification of beneficiaries who have lost everything – personal papers, land deeds etc – due to the scale of the disaster. The second was related to coordination with implementing partners. Our team met this challenge by providing daily reports and analysis to partner organizations, and this proved so successful that many other agencies became interested in the programme.

The third and most complex challenge involved logistics. From the beginning, the programme has faced difficulties in obtaining building materials and delivering them to the shelter sites. The International Federation’s logistics department stepped in, mobilizing 60 M6 trucks to allow the programme to reach villages in remote areas.

In the immediate aftermath of the tsunami, there was hardly any road access and most of the bridges had collapsed. The trucks had to be unloaded in order to pass over temporary bridges, and loaded again afterwards. When they reached the villages, the materials had to be unloaded again.

However, the communities responded positively – such as the time villagers on the remote island of Simeulue sailed out to meet an International Federation boat that could not get close to the island’s harbour, transferred the materials to their own small vessels, and brought them ashore themselves.

Each community involved in the programme received at least two training sessions, teaching them how to erect the frames and attach the timber.
A : We have achieved a lot. The M6 trucks were crucial in the support of our operation, but it succeeded because of the hard work and coordination of everyone involved.

Q : One of the big selling points of the programme has been the fact that the shelters are owned by beneficiaries – that they are free to use them as they wish even when they receive new permanent houses. How have people been using them?

A : The transitional shelters have really improved community life, as they can be used for accommodation, extension of permanent houses or even for income generation if they are converted into kiosks. Many of those who have been given permanent houses keep their shelter as an extension at the back or at the front or their new homes.

Corinne, you definitely must be an Angel. Great to have worked with you. Bob

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Published at last - Charlie Douglas poem

Charlie Douglas (centre of photo) lived on the West Coast of New Zealand from 1867 to 1916, exploring, surveying and mapping the mountains, bush, rivers, lakes and coastline. He was born in Scotland and for his outstanding work was referred to respectfully as Mr. Explorer Douglas. Recently, this poem I wrote some years back, was published in the NZ Alpine Journal.

Charlie Douglas

So what was the inner spring that made you tick ?
In valleys where snow, ice, water and mica mix
Incessant rain and slippery logs
Mosquitoes, sand flies bush and bogs

And ah, paradise lurking in those hot pools
Stripped your rags far way from ’those fools’
As you soaked your matted beard and ropey hair
And a moment of thanksgiving, a silent prayer

Strong, sinewy and stringy as Weka meat
After years of amazing geographical feats
You lay awake, dreaming year after year
Many thought you were a man without a care

But you were putting the world together
While stranded for weeks in nor’westerly weather
Puffing, sucking the old brown brair
In your batwing tent you kindle a fire

No mortgage family possessions houses or barns
You are a free-wheeling man with only socks to darn
A river to cross and a range to measure
Keeping a watchful eye on the wild weather
Weeks of rain and sodden clothes
Notebooks full of maps, observations and prose

Your thrills came from discovery and not wiley tarts,
Betsy Jane at your side, obedient and fast
Never answered back when you got it wrong
The tuis, bellbirds and robins kept you in song
Your footprints were the first in many places,
Mountain top, gorges river and glaciers

The whiskey jar at the Forks, Okarito and Scotts,
Discussing the world with fellow Scots
The jar was your best mate on the binge
You were one of those living over the fringe

Banking almost got you, wife kids and all
But marriage to you was like a pall

Your dreams wafted like smoke from your pipe
Slabs of rata your company during the night
The cursed danps got into every joint
Did you ever ask ‘whats the bloody point ?'

Was it you Charlie or the others who were the fools ?
Your maps, sketches and diaries over which generations drool
No Charlie it was a good deal you got
Harper, and others, you never tolerated that lot
Alpine Club braggards you named them true
Canterbury amateurs who stole feats from you

It was Roberts McFarlane, Bannister and Teichy
They were soul mates of a similar physie
Staunch and modest friends who knew your strengths
Overlooked your weaknesses and came to your defence

The final years in Hokitika with Mrs Ward
Wife of your mate in the mountains who died at a ford

After the stroke you were seen camping at Kaniere
With batwing tent, maps, diaries but without a penny
Possessions and money had no meaning or dues
It was the uncharted land that was treasure to you.

Copyright. Bob McKerrow 2007

Charlie washing his shirt in a stream while his towel dries on a rock behind.

Charlie Douglas
Between 1893 and 1895 Charlie Douglas explored with Arthur P. Harper, a Canterbury mountaineer and lawyer, particularly in the Franz Josef and Fox glacier areas. Harper took this photograph of Douglas washing his shirt in a glacial stream. At this time, Douglas began to muse on his life of exploration: ‘[H]ere I am after thirty years wandering, crouched under a few yards of Calico, with the rain pouring & the Wind & Thunder roaring among the mountains a homeless, friendless, Vagabond, with a past that looks dreary & a future still more so. Still I can’t regret having followed such a life and I know that even if I & thousands besides me perish miserably the impulse which impels them to search the Wild places of the Earth is good’ (quoted in Philip Temple, New Zealand explorers: great journeys of discovery. Christchurch: Whitcoulls, 1985, p. 148).

If you want to read more about this amazing explorer, read Mr Explorer Douglas: John Pascoe's New Zealand Classic

Monday, 19 May 2008

Buddha's birthday - the fool who cannot find the path

The path in the Himalaya

Yesterday afternoon I returned from Yogyakarta, where there are famous Buddhist and Hindu sites.

Today it's a national holiday in Indonesia as we celebrate the birth of Buddha so I cannot think of a more appropriate subject to write on.

This year I travelled extensively in the Himalayas and was so often reminded of one of Buddha Shakyamuni's sayings:

" How long is the road to the weary. How long is the wandering of the fool who cannot find the path."

To a wayfarer like me who has been to Lumbini where he was born, and Buddhagaya where he found enlightenment, I find his teachings inspirational. Over the years I have been to Dharamsala a number of times to hear the Dalai Lama give teachings.

strong>A statue of Budha taken at Borobudar near Yogyakarta

Borobudar, a Budhist site near Yogyakarta


The Birth of the Bodhisatta.
On a full-moon day in the month of May (Visakha) 2600 years ago was born a Prince named Siddhattha. His birth took place at Lumbini (modern Rumindei in Nepal), where his mother Mahamaya, the chief queen consort of King Suddhodana of Kapilavatthu, rested with her royal retinue, on her way to her parental home in Devadaha. In the picture Queen Mahamaya stands under a flowering sala tree holding on to one of its branches.

Discarding both extremes of luxurious living and self mortification, the Bodhisatta Prince chooses the Middle Path of moderation based on the practice of virtue (sila), concentration of the mind (samadhi), and the intensive analysis of all psycho-physical phenomena that finally leads to full understanding of things as they really are (panna). Seated under the Bodhi-tree at Buddhagaya he attains Samma Smabodhi and becomes the Supreme Buddha.

This year when I was walking in the Himalaya with by long time friend Richy Ram who is a Hindu but has a full understanding of Buddhism, I told him "I wanted to go to Dharamsala in a few days time to hear the Dalia Lama give some teachings on Buddha." He replied wisely, "there is no need for you to go to hear the Dalai Lama, because he will tell you that God is within you. " He continued, " keep walking on the path and see God's creation, it is within you and outside of you."

Up until that moment I think I was the fool who could not find the path.

How long is the road to the weary. How long is the wandering of the fool who cannot find the path.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Drinking tea with Osama bin Laden - What's it all about ?

An old man drinking tea in Bangladesh
Saturday morning and a cup of tea in my hand. I am dog tired even though I had a sleep last night. The last 3 weeks has been a blur: Jakarta, Singapore, Amsterdam. Geneva, Kuala Lumpur, North Sumatra, Aceh and Nias Island twice. I've flown across the equator six times in this period all in the name of work. Days in planes, weeks in landcruisers driving over roads which resemble a ripple board. I see people smiling because they have put their lives back together with strong houses, water and sanitation, livelihoods, new schools and hospitals, even airports, roads and electricity.
But I feel so drained of all my energy. Every bone in my body aches. But I look at the work we are doing in Indonesia: Government, Red Cross, UN, World Bank, Asian Development Bank etc, and it all becomes worth it to my sleepy brain. Sometimes I ask myself why do I keep thrashing my body with endless trips ? People also ask me on my blog what keeps me going ? Perhaps it is the ceremony on tea drinking ? A starting point might be drinking tea with Osma Bin Laden in 1996, when I met him in Laghman province, Afghanistan.

He seemed a serious and likable man and he called me over to his table in a small, dirty tea shop to join him for tea. He asked me what I had been doing and I told him that I had been into the mountains of Nuristan with my Afghan Red Crescent colleagues where we were building a clinic, two days walk from the road. I said women die in child birth because they don't even have basic facilities and now we have trained doctor and nurse. He congratulated us. I didn't know much about this man, but he left an impression on me. Little was I to know his future doings. Tea, like faith, is a connector, a healer and a leveler. I am sure God made tea as a ritual and ceremony of peace. I also drank cups of tea with Ahmed Shah Massoud, President Karzai,(Afghan leaders) Sonja Gandhi, Bill Clinton, Pervez Musharaf,Lakhshi Mittal, Ed Cotter, Martha Gellhorn and Ed Hillary, to name a few. So why do tea drinkers kill ? Why were we born ? Perhaps I need to talk about faith, my faith too.

With Sonia Gandhi in 2005

Man’s inhumanity to man and inhumane killings have been part of my life. So has God’s love and blessings. But how does one write about a personal thing called faith ? It is like describing the intimate feelings I have for Naila, something unspoken and intensely personal.. But I will try.

Nicolas Bouvier, a Swiss writer and artist wrote, “ My belief is that one must have passed through fire oneself....to be able to sort out...the contents of those storehouses of sorrow, where fortunately we can also find, more often than we might have dared to expect...enough small miracles to motivate and encourage those in the field who are so often compelled, to quote a mediaeval Japanese poem, ‘to bear the unbearable and tolerate the intolerable.”

When I was 19, I traveled by sea from New Zealand to Panama, Colombia, Equador and Peru and saw my first storehouse of poverty and exploitation, especially in Peru. I spent four months in the high alta-plano living with the Quetchua Indians, the remnants of a once proud and sophisticated civilization: decimated by the Spanish.

Drinking tea with a group of Kiwi mountaineers in Peru in 1968.I am on the left, then Pete Goodwin, Mac Riding (Killed in Vietnam working for Red Cross in Vietnam 1975) and Paul Green. (Still head of DoC at Ruapehu)

Colonization, another of the world’s evils which has been glorified in the name of God. There followed time in the Barriada (slums) of Lima with the beautiful Violetta, a social worker, where I saw extreme poverty. There I saw “Faith” , something spiritual and simple, from a non-material world giving them hope and the strength to survive. It helped shape my faith.

I saw my second storehouse of sorrow in Vietnam in 1971. It was my first Red Cross assignment. Seeing the aerial bombing of villages and countless people killed or maimed for life, by naphalm, B 52’s, M 16’s, helicopter gunships and land mines made me see how the “other half dies.” .

It was so far from my Sunday school and Bible class days in New Zealand where we were told of God’s perfect world and moved wise men of camels across a make-believe desert in a sand pit, with paper palm trees. The World looked so perfect..

I soon found an ever increasing imperfect world off my shores, where I have spent most of my adult life.
In 1971, sitting in the bar at the Continental Palace in Saigon, I recall meeting that famous war correspondent, Martha Gellhorn, who had just come back from having been with US forces and she commenting on the futility of war and the deeper meaning of life...”That spiritual world up or out there,” she described so wistfully, and then dismissed the comment.

Martha Gellhorn with Ernest Hemingway-1936

She had her doubts about it. I knew she had been married briefly to Ernest Hemingway but I refused to raise that issue, for fear of being strangled by such a delicate woman. I thought at the time, it must have been more difficult living with Hemingway than covering any war.

I think most about my spiritual life a lot, but more specifically in bars, on mountains, in wars or when I see poverty and exploitation. Perhaps it is the biblical wine, wars, mountains and the good Samaritan that evoke strong emotions for me. Having a strong spiritual leaning to my life has helped me through incredibly difficult times.

The poor get poorer with worsening governance, rising food prices, climate change and fuel shortages

I like to think I am a Christian...far from being a good one, and I try to pray most days, and the more difficult the going, the more and the harder I pray.

The most pain and helplesness I felt was in 1995 in Kabul In a ward at Kharte se hospital. At least 50 children/teenagers who had legs, hands, feet and legs blown off by landmines during the past few days, had to, twice a day, dip and then soak their freshly severed stump into plastic bags of iodine, to ensure the flesh and bone was clean before operating. The plastic bag would be held by a relative or parent. The first to dip their bloody stump would pierce the air with lachrymose scream of death and as each child being forced to dip their stumps, sometime having lost two legs and an arm, the screaming built up to a crescendo for two to three minutes. During that period, I used to ask “ Why God, where were you when that child was out gathering wood and stepped on a land mine.? “

Removing the body of a dead child in Kabul killed by a terrorist attack.

Today when I pick up my youngest son, I marvel at the delicacey of, and the simple joy a child gives and it makes me think deeply about the ephemeral nature of life.

I need mentors like Ed Cotter above who climbed with Ed Hillary in 1951 and we climbed together in 1990-92 when I lived at Franz Josef Glacier.

Over the years I’ve been inside the storehouse of sorrow in wars, floods, earthquakes., famines, droughts, landslides, cyclones and sheer and simple poverty and exploitation.

Religions, spirituality and heaven, hell and the afterlife fascinate me. For me I believe in the one God and a Christ-like figure. I haven’t seen Christ but believe I have spoken to him. I also feel close to all the prophets of the Bible and the Koran, the heroes of Avesta’s, a canonical work of the Zarathustra, the Ramayana and the Mahabatra fascinate me. I have wandered deeply into Buddhist territory and thought and am constantly aroused by the Sufi poets. But above all, the spirit of the nomads of the great steppes and the Polynesians who constantly challenge my thoughts as they were able to take on new religions, shrug them off like winter coats, or old canoes, and go back to the spirits and roots of their ancestors at will.

Ahmed Shah Massoud. The man who would be leading Afghanistan if he had not been killed by Bin Laden's  Al Qaeda hit team, the day before 9/11.

Massoud was an impressive man who I can never forget. He was a deeply religious man who cared for people, and wanted to rid Afghanistan of Osama bib Laden and Al Qaeda We were both mountaineers in the sense of the word for our love of the mountains is spiritual. When I asked him in 1996 what mountain meant to him, he replied "Mountains remind me of the past. When I see the mountains I have love in my heart. When I am in Kabul I feel surrounded and bored. But when I see the Hindu Kush a new horizon opens up.

Knowing he was one of the greatest military commanders in the history of Afghanistan, I asked him the following question. "Did you use the mountains as a weapon, a friend or what ? "

He replied, "The mountains are the best base to fight from. They are both a stronghold and a shelter. It is the best terrain for Guerilla fighting." He went on to sya, "One of the great factors for a leader is how to use the mountains as a strong hold, as a shelter. During the war against the Soviets we needed to capture the Hindu Kush from the Pamirs to the Kohi Baba and all the mountains north and south of the range. The mountains were useful, we needed to know them well."

Below, a meeting with Ahmed Shah Massoud in Kabul in 1996. 

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth is often in my mind. I know Massoud would have loved this quote. What moves me most is mountain landscapes and my dream of being a snow flake wafting from the sky. To fall on a mountain pass or a col, or even top of a mountain peak. To later to be part of a bergschrund, a snowy arete, a snow field, a neve, a glacier, a crevasse and in my anger and power, an avalanche. And then when I melt, that long trip down the river to the sea.

In Antarctica 1970 all iced up after a trip at - 50 oC in the middle of winter at Vanda Station. We were the smallest group (4) ever to winter over in Antarctica at that juncture in history.

The processes of snow, ice, glaciers, and mountain geology fascinate me and have drawn me back in awe time and time and time again. While reveling in the beauty of the mountains it reminds me our life on this earth is as ephemeral as a snowflake.

In 1968, John Lawrence and I did the first ascent of the south Face of Mellizos (right face and peak) in the Cordillera Vilcabamba in Peru.

On top of Mellizos, Bob laughing at our proposed descent route. We retraced our steps by abseiling down the face as the ridge proved impossible.

John and I should have died on that climb of Mellizos and later on Pumasillo. He wrote to me some years ago:

... do you remember that tense descent on Mellizos north face where on the way down we dodged streaming, chunky gulley avalanches by hopping sideways onto the comforting rockface, and sitting pegged to the granite for hours, huddled, hummingbird antics beside us, meanwhile nestling the image between our feet of welcoming red tents on the ledge way, way, way down below us... as I recall it, we set a little `roulette', or standard.... something like ten minutes with no big stuff, and five minutes with no stuff at all before we felt it safe to resume our descent down the steep couloir... furthermore, on that epic ascent up onto Pumasillo's N ridge (phew!)... my memory was of those awesome, apocolyptic faces beneath us on both sides of our tiny stances on that tottering crap of a ridge with no belays at all to speak of... and geez, no wonder they all said it would never be climbed... and to my knowledge still hasn't!!
I prayed my little frightened 20 year old heart out on those two near-death climbs and we cheated death, or were we delivered from death ?

I once could ski like the wind down mountainsides in New Zealand, France, Austria, Italy and Switzerland. I often repeat the runs in my mind. What keeps me traveling and working these days is the anticipation of seeing something new and the sense of awe evoked by architecture, landscapes, people and their cultures. To close my eyes and to look back at the history behind these special places, provides a sense of place and purpose in my life Frequently the kaleidoscope of contrasts, from awe to awfulness, between pomp, power and poverty, I feel sick and angry and ask why is it so ? But when I slow down and meditate, I know God is part of the world’s latticework of life, and my anger dissipates.
At my daughter, Kira's wedding in 2006

The excitement and challenge of a new job, leading a new team, forming a new relationship or taking a ride (challenge) with nature such as climbing a mountain, exploring a seldom visited mountain region, kayaking a wild river, kayaking across the sea to some distant point, competing in a triathlon when you don’t know the course, teaching my child to swim and planting a garden or a tree is part of God’s expectations of us.

Above my desk at home is a photograph I took in December (1999) in Agra of a inlaid marble panel from the Taj Mahal, the world’s greatest monument to love. Sometimes I dwell on the deeper meaning of love, love Agape. But as New Zealand’s poet Denis Glover writes about me and so many others, I am a thistledown planted on the wind , yearning for new challenges and things to stimulate my thought. Not long before my Mother died - who was born deaf, and the most and influential woman in my life - told me “ Don't die ignorant , try everything once.”

My sisters and brother in the back row, Marie, Graham and Beverly and I in front when I was about 8. My brother Barry was born a year later.

Everyone blames God when things go wrong and forgets to praise him when they go right.

I’ve tried most things in the material and spiritual world. All I can say is “ Thank God for this world, each dawn, sunset, flower, wave and child; there is a life hereafter.”

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Trip to Aceh - Indonesia

I have been in Banda Aceh for the last few days which is the headquarters for a huge Red Cross rehabilitation operation for people affected by the Tsunami in Aceh province. Around 180,000 were killed and millions rendered homeless. With the earthquake in China and the typhoon in Myanmar hitting the headlines, rehabilitation work continues in the Tsunami affected areas of Indonesia

Two photographs below of damage caused by the Tsunami in Aceh on 26 December 2004.

To date we have built 20,000 transitional shelters and have 20,000 permanent houses in various stages of completion. We also have major livelihoods, water sanitation, disaster preparedness, health, blood, ambulance and community outreach programmes.

A house built by the German Red Cross in Calang, Aceh
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Family life is back to normal as people enjoy their new homes and improved coummity facilities

It is such a joy to see people rebuilding their lives and most have conditions which are better than before the Tsunami. The international community is helping the people of Aceh to build back better.
As I travel I can't help but be overwhelmed by the resilience of the people and the beauty of the country side.

I am now in Medan, the biggest seaport in Indonesia where we are having a meeting tonight and tommorw about the future of the Tsuanmi operation with the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, UN, Government of Indonesia.

The man who gave the leadership, displayed courage and innovation and has steered this operation through the last three and a half year is an exceptional man, Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, Director of the Executing Agency for Rehabilitation and Recontruction of Aceh and Nias, the Tsunami affected areas. Kuntoro has been a human dynamo and visionary working 15 hours a day, at least 7 days a week in leading this mammoth reconstruction operation which I believe has been the best in the world in decades, if not ever.
The photo below shows Kuntoro on the left, and myself on the right when we travelled to the island Simeulue recently.