Mark is Head of Humanitarian Emergencies for World Vision UK, but ten years ago was working for another agency and was sent in Sri Lanka to work on the immediate response effort.
As I stood on the Sri Lankan coastline I saw a calm and idyllic looking blue sea peeking through the palm trees. The sky was cloudless and the sun shone warmly on my shirt. But it was just two days after the ‘Boxing Day’ tsunami in 2004 and the picture was so far from idyllic.
Everywhere I looked I saw and smelt death, despair and destruction. I stood only a few metres off the beach but right in front of me was a very different picture, a heart wrenching one that symbolised the suffering that hundreds of thousands of people were going through.
In front of me were two mounds of sand. Young child-sized mounds of sand, laid next to each other, with crosses made out of palm fonds raised on top. The burial sites were fresh.
To my left the village lay flattened. As I walked along the sandy path between houses that had been smashed by the force of the tsunami, little was standing; the often double story homes were uniformly razed to the ground. With the heat of the sun I could smell death emanating from under the rubble, as those who had been inside when the waves came through the village were trapped in their makeshift graves.
The area was eerily quiet. Everyone in the village had fled. The two people stood next to the small graves in front of me were the only others left in the village.
One man came up to me and explained how his friend, sat there under the palm tree, had just lost everything: his wife, children, house and livelihood. In a few minutes everything was gone, swept away by a swirling cloud of water and debris. Even now, I cannot comprehend that level of grief.
I cannot understand how you pick yourself up from that situation and assume that you can never fully recover but adjust your life around the deep suffering that will never leave you. I know that as an aid worker, whatever I do will not ‘make it all better’, will not take away the deep suffering people face every year as they battle with the psychological trauma that they face after living through a ‘rapid onset’ disaster such as an earthquake. But it does help motivate me, drive me in what I do. I just wish there wasn’t a need to do this job.
Heng Family, Thailand
Back in Ban Nai Rai, the entire family of Grandma Heng were safe.
“We stayed for several days at a temporary shelter set up by World Vision with the rest of the villagers who lost their homes, Heng says. “I thought of leaving our village. Our boat was gone shattered to pieces.”
For a while not many fishermen were able to fish; some were frightened, others just didn't have boats to sail. But help poured in as the devastation earned international attention.
“We got support from everywhere, which made us rebound easily,” says Sompong. “We now live in a stronger house.”
Soon after the completion of work to improve the infrastructure and livelihood support, other humanitarian agencies left the community, but World Vision continued its development work in the area. Children were sponsored and adults were taught alternative ways of replacing their lost source of income.
In Indonesia, Junaedi was struggling with suddenly becoming the primary caregiver for his three younger brothers.
The situation was the same for many other families in his village. Before the tsunami there were some 450 people who lived in this community of rice farmers and fishermen. After, just 200 people remained.
At 23, Junaedi balanced being a student, leading a village back from the brink of extinction and taking care of his three younger brothers. He admits he couldn’t have made it if it wasn’t for the help of relatives and international organisations.
“World Vision came to our village after the tsunami and gave us many things – cooking supplies, tools, hygiene kits, mosquito nets. Every month they gave us rice. World Vision built 81 permanent houses here,” Junaedi remembers.