Hands On in West Sumatra, Indonesia

Indonesia's flag
Asia » Indonesia » Sumatra » Padang
January 25th 2010
Published: January 27th 2010
Edit Blog Post

I hope this finds everyone doing well and staying safe. The last blast I sent a few days ago (Paradise Found....) took me through near the end of my 5 1/2 months I spent in Eastern Indonesia. I realize I have so much more to write about but since it is now January 2010 and I left Indo in August of 2009, I had better catch up by just cutting to what I have been doing the past few months.

Many of you -- if not most -- I have met and kept in touch with from past Hands On projects around the world. I realize you understand HODR and what it is the organization strives to do but I thought I'd send a recap of what we are up to these days for all who constantly wonder "what does Suzi do, exactly?".

I left Indo at the end of August last year, spent the month of Ramadan in Malaysia (yes, there were times it was hard to find food during the days, but I managed somehow to survive.... :-) ), a couple weeks in Thailand and only a few days in southern Cambodia before HODR put out the call for volunteers to help set up a new project in a small village in West Sumatra, Indonesia after a series of destructive earthquakes hit in late September. I flew out of Phnom Penh, Cambodia two days after the urgent "let's call get ball rolling once again" email and spent 48 hours in the Singapore Airport before catching a flight directly to the Padang Airport outside the devastated city of Padang. I was shuttled up to our village of Sungai Geringging, a few hours north, on the west coast of Sumatra, by the man who lived in the house HODR took over when we opened up our home base for volunteers. We were really fortunate to find a house that was virtually unscathed by the earthquake, despite the ruined homes in the nearby vicinity. It's a pretty sizable place large enough to house multiple volunteers (with a massive yard set amongst coconut trees and a beautiful creek flowing behind us). If I remember correctly, we had a whoppin' 54 volunteers there at one point just a few weeks ago (no, the house isn't large enough to comfortably fit this many people but many of we volunteers are used to cramped conditions and just deal with situations that we can't do anything about).

A time frame of a typical day for me at Hands On:

5:50am Wake up and put out the breakfast items for the vols, including the making of the coffee from a 6-cup French Press -- thanks to Sarah for the press (sorry Huw, your 8-cup FP broke a few weeks ago) and Derek for bringing all the Folger's from Costco -- ha! and so many of you thought brekkie just materialized by little nighttime elves, didn't you? ;-) Breakfast consists of corn flakes (the ONLY cereal available) and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (make your own), hot water, tea and coffee. Everyday, same same.

7:30am Roll out with the teams to our job sites. Tools have been pulled, stacked in the wheelbarrows (when I am leading a team, I pull the tools for my peeps as early as possible, shortly after getting the brekkie on the table, to avoid the mad rush later in the morning when the other team leaders are doing the same) and loaded onto the pickup trucks. Our driver usually takes 1-2 teams at a time (sometimes we pile 20 or more of us plus wheelbarrows and tools into the back of the pickups at one go) and often zips back to base to pick up more teams.

11:30am-1:30pm Our 2-hour break for lunch gives us enough time to get back from our job sites, eat (set up buffet style by our local cook. We always have rice and sometimes a spicy spaghetti, and a mixture of the following: usually some tofu in red sauce, bean sprouts or greens from our yard in white sauce, fried tempe and/or tofu, chicken, eggs, bakwan - fried doughy goodness filled with cabbage and other veggies -- occasionally a chewy beef dish and often fish in a spicy sambal sauce) and take a nap, if needed (which is often for many). Many vols during this time can be found either passed out on the cool tile floor of our house's common space front room, practicing their Bahasa Indonesia with Rina, our early 20-something local translator or, when we have power and lucky enough to have internet connection, checking emails on personal laptops. Sometimes I read, sometimes I chat up fellow volunteers. If the ice cream man pulls up on his bike and braces us with his presence (it's taken many months to "train" him that if he shows up daily he'll make a killing!), we all go running outside sporting 5,000 Rupiah bills (about 50 cents) for a good Wall's Moo or Feast ice cream on a stick or 7000 Rp Conello Cone. It's as if we were all five years old again. A simple and delicious indulgence.

1:30pm "Put your boots on and get in the truck!" It's time to roll out the doors once again.

1:30-4:30pm Afternoon shift at our job sites. Sometimes the homeowner or family members work alongside us clearing the slabs where their homes used to sit; sometimes the neighboring children take delight in picking up a hammer and "chinking" bricks with us. A few of the boys like the sledgehammers, but we have to be really careful not to let them drop them on sensitive toes! Often the homeowners fix us sickly sweet tea (Indonesians in general enjoy everything sugar!), hot or iced, and serve us either homemade goodies, boxed crackers and occasionally WFP (World Food Program) biscuits, provided to them en masse by the gov'ment. They are loaded with nutrients and area actually quite tasty -- especially dunked in hot tea! Mmmmm....

4:30-6:00pm This hour an a half is taken up with getting home from the job sites, washing up and putting away of the tools, then jumping into the showers to wash ourselves from the daily rubble dust, sweat and general grime. A few volunteers at the beginning of the project built three shower stalls in the backyard, and with the help of two massive sized cisterns (fed from rain water that comes off the roof via a guttering system), we are allowed a one-bucket per person bucket shower. Add a small plastic scoop and you have yourself and Indonesian "mandi." It's so refreshing after working in hot, humid climes all day. Informal dinner follows (similar if not the same food as lunch).

6:00-6:30ishpm Nightly meeting. Marc, our operations director extraordinaire, recaps the day and goes over jobs for the following day. This is also a time to introduce new volunteers and say goodbye to the ones who are leaving us. We take this time to sign up for chores (cleaning up the dishes and housecleaning) for the following day as well. All volunteers are expected to help out with these chores. The mad rush to the whiteboard to sign up for the job we want to be on for the following day commences as soon as the meeting is over. The meetings are always quite informative, and though I have heard zillions of meetings in all the years I have been doing these deployments, I never tire of them.

...... - 10pm The rest of the night belongs to the volunteers. We live in a small village, a dark 20 minute walk to town up and down a few hills so primarily we keep ourselves busy at base. There are always people reading, chatting, recapping the day with friends, checking and sending emails, playing the few board games or cards we have on hand. Quiet hours starts at 10pm but often I am sound asleep long before that!

The following day it all starts over again.

HODR offers a unique opportunity for volunteers, housing and feeding them in exchange for 6 days of work. Sundays is a day of rest, spent lounging on the couch, catching up on emails, swimming in the nearby river, having a BBQ in the back or renting motorbikes to explore the region (all within two hours of our little village, we have a beach, a lovely lake -- Danau Maninjau -- and a city called Bukit Tinggi that all attract travelers to Sumatra, as well as offering a nice respite for the weary volunteers).

HODR allows anybody, everybody to do something good for a community in need, as well as meet and make friends from all over the word. Naturally there are a number of us that are basically "disaster chasers" and keep meeting up at the various projects. We are constantly blessed with mini reunions with friends. The work, though at times quite difficult and under extreme conditions, feels good, no matter how you look at it. There is no time commitment, so we see some people for a day, a week, a month and others stay the entire 3-5 months (on average) of the project. It's volunteer-driven and we don't believe in bureaucracy. We just see a need and figure out how to fulfill it, getting things done timely and efficiently.

In terms of the volunteers that walk through our front doors, we never know who we are going to get. In the 5 years we have been an organization, we have had some amazing, talented, good-natured people come to help us. Nearly everyone brings in a healthy dose of humor and good will and areas of expertise we never knew could be put to work for our organization. One doesn't need an area of expertise, per se, to do this kind of disaster response work, just a can-do attitude, a willingness to help and the ability to learn something new and pass it along to the next volunteer who comes through.

I'll be at the project in Indonesia until February 20th, but if anyone is interested in joining us, HODR will still be there until April 9th. The project extension was announced 12 hours before the devastating earthquake ravaged Port-us_Prince and the surrounding areas in Haiti. We have an assessment team on the ground already trying to find out in what capacity we can help.

We decon (deconstruction) houses (successfully take down the roofs), salvage the house materials (timber and tin, windows and door frames, bricks and river rocks), sledge down the remaining walls, shovel all the rubble and take it all to a "rubble pile" off the house slab, somewhere into the nearby jungle. It's hot, hard, dirty work but somehow we take joy in doing it, knowing the homeowners often aren't able to do it themselves, either from lack of tools or lack of motivation. It must be hard to see one's home disappear before one's eyes after such a traumatic event. If you would like to read more about what it is we are doing in Sumatra, please take a look at the following link, an update from week 12 of the project:

We have also recently begun work on a transitional shelter program and are looking for donations to help fund these homes. I committed to taking on the rendering/plastering portion of these t-shelters and have nearly already a week of experience under my belt (whoop whoop!! ^_^ ). There is a short video made by a few volunteers (yup, I'm in it!) showing what we are doing and featuring SIPIN, the first t-shelter recipient. She's such a sweet lady....

I realize in the wake of the Haitian earthquake disaster many people have been sending donations to Haiti to help out in whatever capacity they can. As much as this is a wonderful, caring act of kindness, we too, in Indonesia could use some money to help fund the project and especially the t-shelter program. I urge you to forward this email on to everyone you know and have them send donations to www.hodr.org. The above link is directly for the t-shelters for Indonesia but one can also send donations for Haiti as well using the following link: https://secure.ga1.org/05/haiti_earthquake

Thanks to everyone for helping. May Indonesia as well as Haiti get the support it rightly deserves and a speedy recovery from the terrible loss they have both suffered.


Tot: 2.289s; Tpl: 0.066s; cc: 15; qc: 29; dbt: 0.0653s; 2; m:saturn w:www (; sld: 2; ; mem: 1.3mb