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Aceh Five Years Later

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Aceh Five Years Later
Great Love Village I, Panteriek
Great Love Village II, Neuheun
Great Love Village III, Meulaboh
The Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004 in a Nutshell
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On December 26, 2004, a horrific tsunami brought death and destruction to hundreds of thousands of people. The unspeakable devastation rerouted the lives of countless people in Aceh, Indonesia. Children were orphaned, newlyweds widowed, whole families wiped out—all in a heartbeat.

Despite the tragedy, the road to recovery has been made a little less arduous for 2,568 families in the region. In the wake of the disaster, Tzu Chi built permanent housing for them and offered a glimmer of hope for a new life. In the places they now call homes, they remember loved ones and seek anew the promises of tomorrow.

The rainy season was coming to an end in Aceh. On the eve of Eid al-Adha—or the Festival of Sacrifice, in the 12th and last month of the Islamic lunar calendar—pedicabs, scooters, and automobiles packed the streets of the shopping districts of Banda Aceh, the capital of the predominantly Muslim Aceh special region.

Older buildings stood next to new ones amidst the crowds along the teeming streets. Some of the older structures had survived the deadly waves, but newer ones had risen from the destruction after the tsunami. In the midst of this hodgepodge of old and new, sorrow and hope, the people of Aceh have shown tremendous vitality in recovering from the calamity. They have experienced great destruction, but now they are striving for a great recovery.

The events of that tragic day in December 2004 will be forever etched in the hearts and minds of everyone left alive in Aceh. Every resident can recall with perfect clarity the horrors of that day. In fact, telling the stories of those horrifying moments seems to be a necessary therapeutic step in the recovery of those traumatized. The stories are heartrending. Survivors tell of how water engulfed and washed away homes and businesses. They tell of how again and again one national death toll was topped by another before eventually hitting 230,000. They relate lists of survivors who lost one or more family members. Most tragically, they tell of the lives of their own loved ones who perished that day. But despite all the sorrow and misery, they know life must go on.

In addition to those that perished, the tsunami left nearly half a million people homeless. After the devastation, aid and love poured into the country from around the world. Twenty-seven United Nations agencies, 40 countries, and over 600 charitable organizations helped rebuild Aceh, at a cost of US$6.4 billion.

As part of this international aid effort, Tzu Chi built permanent housing for 2,568 families in three communities: Great Love Villages I, II, and III, located in Panteriek, Neuheun, and Meulaboh respectively. In addition to the residential units, Tzu Chi also built nine schools (kindergarten through grade 9) and other public facilities in the three villages.



Aida Angkasa (洪元璦) lives in Medan, the capital of Sumatra Province, which neighbors Aceh. A Tzu Chi volunteer, she has been shuttling between her home and Aceh, where she spends one to two weeks a month in one of the three villages. She handles applications for residency and helps residents settle into their new homes. She knows almost every family in the three villages.

"When the houses were being built, we gave priority to families with children,” Angkasa said. “Initially, some people were not sure if they wanted to move in at all, but once they saw how nice the villages were turning out, they all wanted in.” In addition to having typical rooms and facilities, each housing unit is rustproof and insulated against sound and heat. They even have front and back yards.

Residents have already started to build additions to their homes. “It shows that their finances are improving,” Angkasa explained.