Catholic clinic aids Sunda Strait tsunami victims

Indonesia halts emergency relief on Jan. 9 but victims beg mobile clinic not to leave as over 34,000 still displaced
Catholic clinic aids Sunda Strait tsunami victims

Nuryati, 38 and her son undergo a medical check-up at a temporary clinic run by the Catholic Church in Panimbang Jaya village of Pandeglang district in Indonesia's Banten province on Jan. 8. Their home was devastated by the Sunda Strait tsunami that hit the region on Dec. 22, 2018. (Photo by Siktus Harson/ucanews.com)

With aid agencies reporting that long-term benefactors are reeling from "donor fatigue" after Indonesia was battered by natural calamities last year, a Catholic-sponsored mobile clinic is proving a godsend for victims in need.

The clinic, which operates in the fisherman's village of Panimbang Jaya in Banten province, 140 kilometers from Jakarta, has helped thousands of people relocate to safer areas.

Many lost their homes when the Sunda Strait tsunami tore into coastal areas on Dec. 22, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake that robbed legions of their homes and livelihoods.

It claimed 437 lives, injured more than 14,000 people and displaced 34,000, with at least 14 still on the missing list as of Jan. 2, according to the National Disaster Mitigation Agency.

It also wrapped up a painful year for a country that was not spared the wrath of Mother Nature, including a devastating series of earthquakes in Lombok near Bali in July and August, and another temblor and tsunami in Sulawesi Island in September.

Sign up to receive UCAN Daily Full Bulletin
Thank you. You are now signed up to our Daily Full Bulletin newsletter
This was followed by a Lion Air flight that crashed 13 minutes after takeoff in October after leaving Jakarta, killing all 189 passengers and crew.

The cumulative effect has seen donors' coffers start to dry up, casting the temporary mobile clinic as a blessing for those living in remote areas where government aid and health care facilities are thin on the ground.

The clinic spent a week offering check-ups and medicine to fishing families and terrified mothers in Panimbang Jaya after serving tsunami victims in other areas such as Pandeglang district in the same province.

Franciscan Sister Maria Atanasia comforts Yayah, a widow whose house was damaged by the tsunami that washed across the Sunda Strait in late December, killing 437 people and damaging thousands of homes. (Photo by Siktus Harson/ucanews.com)

 

Among the beneficiaries were Nuryati and her 3-year-old son. The young mother said she was at her wit's end worrying about the health of her toddler before the clinic set up show, dispensing free checkups and antibiotics.

Nuryati was one of 300 victims of the tsunami who visited the facility on Jan. 8 alone. She was suffering from gastric pain and was still heavily traumatized by memories of the giant wave that turned her life upside down.

Meanwhile, her son had developed a worrying flu and chronic cough, she recalled.

"I'm so relieved we were able to get medicine here, and it didn't cost us anything," the 38-year-old Muslim mother of three told ucanews.com. "They really helped my family."

The tsunami devastated Pandeglang and Serang districts as well as Pesawaran and Tanggamus districts in Lampung province, according to the disaster mitigation agency.

While the scale of destruction was said to be just one-sixth that of the Sulawesi quake — and aid easier to dispense due to Banten's proximity to Jakarta — many victims were still left scrabbling for help.

The tsunami was triggered by an underwater landslide when the Anak Krakatau ("child of Krakatoa") volcano erupted. Critics later blasted the government for not properly maintaining the nation's tsunami alert system, which was described as being in a woefully inadequate condition.

Worryingly, seismologists declared, the volcano remains active and there is a possibility that further eruptions in the coming weeks could catalyze another giant, killer wave.

Nuryati and her family were at home when the waves pummeled its fragile bamboo structure roughly 100 meters from the shore. The house and all their belongings were washed out to see, ruined and lost.

"I'm still traumatized by what happened," she said, adding the family now sleeps in a refugee shelter at night.

She said everyone she knows is terrified of another natural disaster, and agrees with the government's plan to relocate those living along the coast.

Vitria, 37, has three mouths to feed and is expecting her fourth child. She said she is haunted by the memories of the tsunami and lives in a constant state of anxiety about how to provide food and lodgings for her family.

"I'm still scared," she said, adding the clinic had offered her a lifeline. She hoped it would would stick around even though the government declared an end to emergency relief on Jan. 9.

Yayah, 47, whose house was also severely damaged, thanked Franciscan Sister Maria Atanasia, coordinator of the medical team, for helping her battered community.

She cried when the nun and volunteers visited her wrecked abode.

"I've lost all my belongings, everything, including my house," she said. 

Medical doctor Kevin Octavianus Sugianto, a volunteer from the Association of Voluntary Health Services of Indonesia (Perdhaki), examines the health of a women at the mobile clinic in Panimbang Jaya village on Jan. 8. (Photo by Siktus Harson/ucanews.com)

 

No rest for the weary

Sister Atanasia began treating victims on Dec. 24 along with representatives from the Association of Voluntary Health Services of Indonesia (Perdhaki), Caritas Indonesia — the local branch of the Church's charity arm — Caritas of Bogor Diocese, Mission Hospital staff and doctors, and Lembaga Daya Dharma, which is run by Jakarta Archdiocese.

They were so rushed off their feet that she recalls not having time to attend Mass on Christmas Eve because she was busy scouting for somewhere to set up a temporary shelter.

Finally they managed to establish an emergency post dispensing health care and counseling that was equipped with a public kitchen in Angsana village, about 3 kilometers from Panimbang Jaya.

"As soon as we got it going the aid started pouring in — donations and daily necessities, clothes and cleaning products, mats, tents and medicines," she said.

Dozens of volunteers including medical doctors, psychologists, nutritionists, nurses, midwives and local Muslims all pitched in to help out.

They are divided into small teams on a daily basis and dispatched to visit the injured and the displaced, bringing them medicine and food and listening to their heartbreaking stories to help them heal.

"The aid we are able to provide is quite limited but we try to help anyone regardless of their (religious or other) background," Sister Atanasia said.

They didn't encounter any resistance, partly because they had coordinated with other agencies operating in the area, but mainly because they won the support of Mission Hospital (Rumah Sakit Misi Lebak), she noted.

"Some local Muslims have even started referring to our nuns as 'Hajj Sister'," she observed.

Medical doctor Kevin Octavianus Sugianto, a member of Perdhaki who has been helping victims since Dec. 24, said he joined the team because it he felt that was both his duty and his calling as a Catholic.

"I enjoy performing medical check-ups. Many of the people here are traumatized, sick, and in need of help," Sugianto told ucanews.com.

Typical complaints vary from high blood pressure to gastric pain, diabetes, and high cholesterol, he said. Children tend to suffer from coughs, flu, diarrhea, and skin allergies.

"I hope they get over the emotional and psychological trauma soon because that can have a negative impact on their physical health," he added.

 

Emergency aid ends

The government set Jan. 9 as the deadline for government agencies and NGOs to stop providing emergency assistance to those affected by the Sunda Strait tsunami.

That means refugees had to start thinking about returning home while those who lost their houses were left wondering what the future holds.

Many people in Panimbang Jaya village, including Nuryati, Vitria, and Yayah, say they won't be able to make it alone and need more help – either from the state or from the church.

Sister Atanasia said local churches plan to keep on helping the victims.

After her aid post is shuttered, she said her team will focus on rebuilding and renovating damaged homes and properties to restore a sense of normality to this battered land.

They will also repair mangled boats so local fishermen can head back out to sea and keep on feeding their families, she noted.

© Copyright 2019, UCANews.com All rights reserved
© Copyright 2019, Union of Catholic Asian News Limited. All rights reserved
Expect for any fair dealing permitted under the Hong Kong Copyright Ordinance.
No part of this publication may be reproduced by any means without prior permission.