Project Sungai Geringging
January 7th, 2010
While we were staying at the Beach Inn on Lake Maninjau we met Dave and Dagmara from Vancouver who were on their way to Sungai Geringging, a small community about an hour away that was heavily damaged in two large earthquakes in September — one 7.9 and one 7.0, on back to back days. They told us about a volunteer organization that was working in the area called Hands On Disaster Response. HODR was set up in Sungai Geringging and was doing deconstruction, salvage and transitional shelter construction for families in the area whose homes had been damaged in the quake. As Dave and Dagmara left, they suggested we make our way over to check it out. Unlike many other volunteer organizations, HODR doesn’t cost money to volunteer with, and since we were so close, we thought it would be fun to see what it was all about.
After a short bus trip and a twenty minute ride on the back of two motorbikes, we arrived at HODR Project Sungai Gerringing. There were a handful of other volunteers that had arrived on the same day, and signing up to help on the project couldn’t have been easier. Because this part of Sumatra has a strong muslim population, the sleeping areas for guys and girls are kept separate — Meg got an air mattress on the floor inside, and I got a bunk in an open-air tent outside. Soon enough, the volunteers that were out on site started to return from the day’s work, and by the dinnertime meeting, there were nearly forty people packed into the common room. Everyone was very outgoing and welcoming, and it didn’t take long for us to feel right at home.
After a so-so night’s sleep, we woke up yesterday ready for our first day of volunteer work. As luck would have it, HODR had just received two new giant tents — my task was clear. I signed up as project lead for Team Tent, while Meg went out for a day of sorting and salvaging rubble at one of the other sites. Most of the jobs at present involve deconstructing condemned buildings and trying to recover as many of the materials as possible for reconstruction. Some deconstruction teams go to new sites to pull the structure down to the ground, and other salvage teams follow behind to make sense of the pile of rubble left behind. The idea is to provide the families with a clean slate on which to build a new house, once they receive money from the government (which we are told has been promised, but no one really knows whether or not it will actually be delivered). Today we both went out to a salvage site, where twenty kids hung around watching us work, and picking up the tools to work themselves whenever we stopped for a break. There’s something a little disconcerting about watching an eight year old try to wield a sledgehammer as big as him, but it’s energizing to be surrounded by their enthusiasm.
The work is hard, hot and humid. Our bodies are sore from the labour. It’s been a long time since I’ve sweated as much as I have these past couple of days. The house we are staying in has cold bucket showers out back, which feel great after a long day in the sun. Sunburns are common, clothes are filthy, and the mosquitos are aggravating, but spirits are high and new volunteers are arriving every day. We’ve been really impressed so far by the way things are run here, and we think that it’s wonderful that we are able to show up for even just a few days and feel useful and welcome. We’re planning to stay on for a few more days at least before carrying on to other destinations.
If you have time, check out their website at www.hodr.org. We’ll be writing more about our time here as we go.