Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Tsunami Arrives, OI Sumatera Begins (12/04)

Within six weeks of the Tsunami in December 2004, we had raised enough money, including an anonymous gift of $60,000 from an affluent French businessman, to expand our activities in Indonesia with the initiation of OI Sumatera, joining OI’s existing project in Sulawesi. I am enormously proud of the fact that Orphans International had our first house ready to open in February 2005, only six weeks after the Tsunami disaster. For a small, all-volunteer effort, that was a challenge. We rose to it.

“The enormous scale of this disaster precludes any one organization or government from stabilizing the situation,” stated OI America former board member Tim Vanover so eloquently in our February 2005 InterNews. “However, if every NGO on the ground there could assist to their maximum capacity, it would alleviate much suffering and despair.” In Aceh, Sumatera, Indonesia alone there were 247,000 dead or missing with 100,000 children orphaned; at least 30,000 of these children were reported to have lost even their extended family.

Teacher Mike Daly from Roosevelt Island Middle School coordinated a joint project between OI Children and New York City children. Mike arranged pictures taken from my Christmas/New Year’s trip to Sulawesi into a slide show to present to his students. He is brainstorming with others on how to create a project in which American children write letters to OI Children in English and receive a response electronically, translated into English. As suggested by my old PTA friend, Erin Feely-Nahem, the Roosevelt Island Middle School Student Council also allocated $800 from their Penny Harvest to help support the creation of OI Sumatera.

Barbara Blazek Emanuel, one of OI America’s advisors and the architect of our Houseparent Training Program, was then a third grade teacher at Spring Hill Elementary School outside Washington, D.C. Barbara wrote the following: “For many of us, the holiday season was a mix of happiness along with great sadness for the victims of the Tsunami that has killed and displaced so many people. It was especially sad to consider the countless children who are now without families and homes. When events as horrific as this occur, it brings out the best in humanity as people strive to help those in need. And we are proud that children around the United States have enthusiastically risen to this challenge.”

Our first teenager, bicycle-loving Bahrizal,
needs one more sponsor to guide him into adulthood.

The project began in February 2005. The first four rental homes opened on the outskirts of Banda Aceh, epicenter of the Tsunami disaster in Indonesia. The campus is located in the Village of Lubuk, nine miles (15k) from downtown Banda Aceh

Meetings with government officials in New York, Jakarta, and Banda Aceh in January kicked off our effort to provide a secure home and support for children orphaned by this disaster. I had actually met in New York with Indonesian Social Welfare Minister Alwi Shihab in December 2004, just prior to the Tsunami, to discuss a similar expansion. Mr. Shihab went on to coordinate Indonesia’s response to the disaster. OI’s February International Council meeting was held at the Indonesian Mission to the United Nations. OI Sumatera will be composed of and work closely with local leadership in Banda Aceh.

By February, OI staff had begun the process of reviewing applications of orphaned children in the province of Aceh, and twelve children had already been approved and were awaiting placement.

We have the loan of an existing public health clinic and its grounds for three years as our interim campus. The grounds consist of a health clinic and residential building that we are in the process of renovating. Later we will build a mirror residence, forming a “U” shape with a beautiful garden where out children will play.

We created OI Sumatera to provide a continuing and long-lived base of support to Tsunami victims. We plan to fully integrate the campus into the local community and to serve as a locus of interaction for international humanitarian organizations working with Indonesian NGOs in Sumatera.

Grodzins & Rotary Houses, side-by-side,
opened for Tsunami orphans in Sumatera.

This interim campus officially opened in April 2006 with the arrival of our international delegation, including Jacques Africot of OI Haiti, Yuri Guanilo of OI Peru, and myself. Over 200 people, including representatives of the Indonesian provincial government, attended the opening of our campus in Greater Banda Aceh, where we celebrated our children’s first night in Grodzins and Rotary Houses. Grodzins House was opened in honor of Ethel Grodzins Romm’s eightieth birthday. Rotary House was contributed by the Huntington and Northport, Long Island chapters of Rotary International.

Groundbreaking for both Roosevelt Island House and Spring Hill House was incorporated into the celebration, which included traditional Acehenese dancers and the presentation of awards to the projects local sponsors. These included local NGOs, particularly Pak Djoni Rahmany, leader of the local village foundation. OI staff from around the world – America, Haiti, and Peru – converged on Aceh for the Opening Ceremony.

The rooms of Roosevelt Island House will be named after two of OI America’s strongest supporters: United States Rep. Carolyn Maloney and New York City Council Speaker Gifford Miller.

Presenting an award to Pak Djoni Rahmany,
leader of the local village foundation.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney wrote: “I am deeply honored by the prospect of having the girls’ room at the Sumatera campus named for me. It has been my pleasure to play a small part in helping Orphans International accomplish its goals. I hope I will one day have the pleasure of visiting the Carolyn Maloney Room at the Sumatera campus.”

We received a loan of 3,000 square meters in the village to house an additional 36 orphans in seven homes, the be known as the Campus Annex. Negotiations continue to obtain a full forty acres in perpetuity.

After Grodzins House opens in Sumatera,
our new boys wrestled on their new beds!

OI Sumatera was featured in People magazine, in an article entitled “The Children of the Tsunami” (June 13, 2005). In the section on “Where Your Money Can Go to Help,” People listed UNICEF, Save the Children, GlobalGiving, WorldVision - and Orphans International. This followed the story of April 18, 2005 in the New York Post entitled “Tsunami Saint.”

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