Tonight 347 Families Will Stay Drier Under Tarps

Allison Zelkowitz, Save the Children program manager

Allison's blog also appears on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 blog page 

October 8, 2009, 10:56 PM

I think I may actually get a full night’s sleep tonight – for some reason this makes me feel guilty. My colleague is snoring on the small sofa outside my room. He’s fully dressed, and there’s an empty bed just five feet away, so I don’t think he meant to fall asleep there. Everyone is exhausted – the aid workers, the government officials, the journalists, and especially the families whose houses have crumbled.

And it’s only been a week!

Today four of us on the  team moved from our first base camp north of Padang to a small village in the mountains near Lake Mininjau. Save the Children is working to expand our emergency relief program quickly, so that we can help as many people as we can when they need it most.

Our goal is to reach 150,000 people affected by the earthquake with humanitarian aid, as well as provide child protection and education programs.DSC_0102 

But one of the hardest things about this job is that it never feels like enough.

There are always more communities who want our support, more people who need food and shelter, and more children who require care and protection.

Here in this tiny village, where only a handful of houses still stand, this is incredibly apparent.

So I try to focus on the small achievements – tonight, 347 families will stay drier under the tarps we gave them. For now, that is enough.

Learn more about Save the Children's response in Indonesia.



Mothers dying in child birth! How could this be happening?

Latha Caleb, Save the Children country director, Philippines

Oct. 7, 2009  Manila, Philippines

How does one stay focused when everything around you screams for attention? This is how I felt when I entered the evacuation camp in the Cupang Elementary School in Muntinlupa. There was stagnant water everywhere, 15 families huddled into one classroom, women bathing on one side, children playing, several pregnant women wandering around, people sleeping on the floor, someone washing clothes, another bathing a little child.LathaIMG_2666  


My eyes fell on a lady holding a little child. To me, it looked like the child was a few days old. I asked her how old the child was and she said," 2 months. " The baby did not look like a two-month old child at all.


I asked her when the child was born, thinking there must be some miscalculation, and she said, "July. He was born in his 7th month."


I held out my hands and asked her if I could carry the child and she willingly gave him to me. As I was holding the child she said to me, “The mother died giving birth to this child.” I was shocked, and angry, and frustrated all at the same time. Mothers dying in child birth! How could this be happening?


"He is being breastfed by other lactating women in our neighborhood,” she said. "He will need several mothers to replace the one he lost."


Learn more about Save the Children's response in the Philippines



‘Terima Kasih’ Means ‘Thank You’ in Indonesian

Allison Zelkowitz, Save the Children program manager

Allison's blog also appears on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 blog page 

October 7, 2009, 1:40 am

This morning I led a five-person team of Save the Children staff and volunteers to assess an area near Lake Maninjau, in northern Pariaman district. At first, near the main road, the damage didn’t seem that serious. But once we started heading toward the interior, up into the hills, we were alarmed by what we saw: skeletons of houses, splits in the road and metal roofs lying flat on the ground, surrounded by bricks and rubble. Most of the homes that were still standing had suffered irreparable damage, with huge cracks crisscrossing the walls.

Still many were occupied. People seem to have salvaged what belongings they could and moved them to areas that still provided some shelter. We passed two men sitting at a table in what must have been the dining room – now that the exterior wall had collapsed, it looked more like a patio. A number of homes were propped up by wooden posts, providing some support to the weakened structure. If another earthquake occurs, I fear they will do little good.

During this morning’s journey, our car was passed by a funeral procession. Six men carried a draped body; they were followed by at least 100 people. The crowd was winding its way slowly up the road toward us, so we stopped the car and waited until they passed. As we watched the group walk by, I was struck by how immaculately dressed they all were. Some probably borrowed clothing from friends or relatives. But many must have unearthed theirs from the debris, then washed and (somehow) pressed them. I find that rather noble.

By early afternoon our team finished a quick survey of the area. We selected a village that had, until recently, been cut off by landslides. Now one narrow road was clear. We worked with community leaders in Singai Pingai to arrange the distributions, prioritizing families in most need of help.

By day's end, Save the Children provided 810 families, or over 4,000 people, with hygiene kits and tarpaulins. But the day was not without its trials – managing crowds under any circumstance is a challenge, but especially so when people have spent days without assistance and are desperate for help. But we kept the lines moving and made sure goods made it to those most severely affected.

There are moments that make the stress and long hours worthwhile. Today one young mother came up to me, cradling a baby in a sling around her chest, and carrying the tarps and hygiene kit she’d just received on top of her head. She carefully extracted her right hand, offered it to me, and said, “terima kasih” – thank you in Indonesian, but literally translated as “receive love.” I think the feeling was mutual.

Learn more about Save the Children's response in Indonesia.

Allison at distribution 
Allison works with community members at a recent aid distribution in Singai Pingai, a village in hard-hit western Sumatra's Parianam district. 

Philippines – Lunch Can Wait, but a Child Cannot!


Latha Caleb, Save the Children Country Director,

Philippines Oct. 2, 2009 – Manila, Philippines

Another day… there is tension in the city…a lot of fear as Manila is preparing itself for another typhoon that could possibly hit the islands in the early hours of Saturday. People are scrambling to stock up on food and water and other essentials. The government has notified people to go home early to be able to prepare their families for the super-typhoon! I have not stocked up on food for the last 6 weeks and my stock of food is down to two cartons of milk and a packet of cereal. There is tons of work to be done…. The emergency team meeting…welcoming Annie Foster – the team leader who is flying in from Guatemala – ensuring that all the requests for resources to do our work is followed up… cluster meetings and coordination meetings to be attended…check if the team that went for non food items distribution has come back from the field… follow up on procurement…..get the latest situation update done…track the latest typhoon…follow up on requests for communication materials.. photos and comments for use at head quarters… be on the conference call at 9 pm to touch base with the home office in Westport…the list of things to be done keeps growing… I seem to be prioritizing and reprioritizing my list, thinking which one of these things can wait and what needs to be done immediately. Suddenly I remember what Riel, our sponsorship manager, told me. “A couple of days ago I was among the staff who spent time packing the relief goods. Today it is my first time joining the relief distribution. At 1PM, we hurried to Western Bicutan, one of our sponsorship communities. Parents with their children, and some children without their parents, made up the queue of people waiting to receive the relief goods. We finished around 4pm. There was no time to eat lunch but it doesn’t matter. Lunch can wait, but a child cannot!

Yes! We need to do all this all at the same time! We need to make sure we are doing this so that we don’t keep children waiting! We need to do it Now! And in the Filipino way of saying it – Now Na!

Learn more about Save the Children's response in the Philippines.

Vietnam – Flying into Da Nang

Nick Finney, Save the Children Emergency Response Team Leader

Oct. 2, 2009 -  Da Nang, Vietnam

Flying into Da Nang it’s cloudy. But then, briefly, a break in the clouds and a glimpse of the situation on the ground. Water. Everywhere. All the fields completely flooded, broken by traces of roads.

I’ve been here before. A bustling port city which thrives on trade, agriculture and tourism. All on pause for the moment but it can be amazing how resilient people can be. Let’s see.

I’m with a rapid assessment and response team. We also have teams going to five other provinces nearby. We’ll get some initial relief supplies going to the worst affected areas and really try to understand the consequences of the storm for children and families.

We land and it’s raining heavily. Leaving the airport we see that this new rain is flooding the streets but clearly people are starting to try to get on with their lives. As usual in Vietnam, mopeds are everywhere. It’s quite tricky to get around with over a foot of water on the roads. There is debris on the streets. Lots of damage – advertising boards, uprooted trees, minor debris. However, we’re in the city. The water will drain away quicker in the wind.

We get some help from a friendly hotel owner who is letting us establish a temporary base in his building. I ask him what it was like when the storm came through two days ago. He said, “We’re used to it here – we get a typhoon every year. But we can’t remember the last time a typhoon brought so much rain. Most of the city is OK but they’re really struggling inland. People are poorer there and with crops and homes destroyed they will find it hard to recover.”

News comes in on supplies. We should have 400 household kits later today, with more to folllow. Kits have a water container, 2 blankets, a large mosquito net, a kettle, 2 cooking pots, a bucket and a few other utensils for some of the households that lost all their possession. We’ll prioritize pregnant mothers, those with young children and families that have lost their breadwinner.

We’ll need to supplement this with ways to help families whose houses are wrecked. With so much water lying around we’re also worried about sanitation and hygiene. It needs close watching – children are the first to suffer if drinking water is dirty, if they don’t get enough of the right food, or when diseases start to spread. It’s a vicious circle, especially for newborn children.

I meet one of our staff, Trung. He’s based in Hue, 100 km north of here.

“How are you? Family OK?” I ask.

“Yes we’re all OK – no one hurt but the house has taken some damage,” he replies.

I’m relieved, and happy to see him. He’s a doctor and I know we’ll need his skills and knowledge of the area.

A chat with Huy, a colleague back in Hanoi is not so upbeat. He says, “That second typhoon’s approaching Luzon in the Philippines – another strong one – fifty-fifty chance of it heading your way in a few days.”

Learn more about Save the Children’s response in Vietnam.

Vietnam – 36 Hours After the Storm

Nick Finney, Save the Children Emergency Response Team Leader

Oct. 1, 2009 -  Hanoi, Vietnam

NickSmall Arrived in Hanoi about 36 hours after a storm lashed the coast of central Vietnam. The typhoon brought very strong winds but also dumped an enormous amount of rain after landfall. Our team have already jumped into action, Typhoon Ketsana hit several provinces where we were already working to improve the situation of poorer children and families in Vietnam.

We’re relieved to hear that all our team are accounted for but the damage looks bad. We also have reports of heavy rains continuing to make the search and rescue very difficult. The government is taking a lead on trying to get to people trapped by the floods.

My colleague finally makes contact with his two nephews in Hoi-An, a well known tourist town. They managed to get word out that they are OK. Hoi-An is heavily flooded. They are stuck on the first floor but with adequate food stocks.

We spend the afternoon organizing further supplies, basic things to help a household get back on its feet. We need to get them out there quickly. We establish an operations room in our Hanoi office.

But we’re worried, the rain is still coming and there is limited news from many remote areas.

“How bad is it?” I ask Hang, our emergency manager – she’s worked for us for several years doing emergency response.

“This one is bad. Da Nang was hit in 2006 by Typhoon Xangsane. It caused a lot of damage, ripping off roofing. But it was a dry typhoon – no rain, only strong winds. We haven’t seen floods like this for a long, long time. People are suffering.”

News comes through of the damage caused by the earthquake in Indonesia and fears of another big storm approaching the Philippines. It really puts us under pressure but our job here is to focus 110 percent on getting relief to the affected children in Vietnam. We cannot get distracted.

At least the airport in Da Nang is now open. We can fly tomorrow. I’ll be up at 4 AM for the flight. It takes an hour – we should be on the ground by early morning, some basic supplies arriving later in the day.

Learn more about Save the Children’s response in Vietnam.