Last Day in Padang: October 29, 2009


Ingrid Lund, Save the Children, communications officer, Padang, Indonesia


Today is my last day in the “Big Brother” house here in Padang as my plane back home to Norway leaves at 8 o’clock tomorrow morning. I can’t believe that I’ve been here for three weeks already … or that I haven’t been here for three months. Strangely enough I have both those feelings at the same time.


I know I have been talking quite a bit about losing a grip on time. But it’s really a strange feeling. Each day is so long and extreme that it gets hard to remember the day before. In that respect it feels like I’ve been in Indonesia forever. The constant combination of too much work, too little sleep, and a complete lack of privacy ensure that I experience an enormous amount of both exciting and not-so-exciting things every day.


In a way, this feels like home now. My colleagues here in Padang have been my entire life the last three weeks. We’ve been together 24/7 and know so much about each other by now; we’re almost family J


On the other hand, it’s going to be fantastic to get back to my actual home. I just can’t stop dreaming about that real shower I’ll be having, hot water pouring endlessly over my head. The opportunity to rinse the shampoo out of my hair for the first time in three weeks. Clean clothes. Oh, this might very well be the best shower of my life!


Tomorrow, when I start my long journey home to that shower, exactly one month will have passed since the earthquake hit West Sumatra. So far, Save the Children has provided more than 98,000 people – including almost 50,000 children – with critical shelter and relief supplies. This means that


Save the Children has mounted the largest relief effort of any international non-governmental organization in response to the quake. This means we’re two-thirds on our way to our goal to reach 150,000 people, including 75,000 children with essential relief. That’s great and most certainly makes up for the 80-90 hours long work weeks! 


Schooltents_022_case-1 Thinking back, 12-year-old Popot might be the person I’ve met here who has made the biggest impression on me. Her house was completely destroyed during the earthquake.


I met Popot in one of the 80 school tents that Save the Children has erected so far.


I noticed her because she was the girl with the broadest smile and the biggest laugh. She looked genuinely happy to be in  school with her friends.


I will never forget Popot’s big smile!   


Learn more about Save the Children's emergency response in the Asia-Pacific region.

45,000 Children and Families Hardest Hit by the Sumatra Earthquake Get Life-saving Relief from Save the Children

Ed. note: Two-and-a-half weeks after a magnitude-7.9 earthquake shattered West Sumatra, Save the Children has provided critical shelter and relief items to 8,676 households, or 44,380 people, 60 percent of them children.

Ingrid Lund, Save the Children, communications officer, Padang, Indonesia

Ingrid_web The village Batu Basa lies in the hills in Aur Malintang district in West Sumatra. This area was hard hit by the earthquake. Here 90–95 percent of the population can no longer live in their houses, which are completely destroyed or in danger of collapsing.

Today, Save the Children is distributing hygiene kits in Batu Basa. The rain is pouring down. Therefore, the distribution is taking place inside a large, green tent the government has erected next to the narrow road that passes through the village. The tent has no floor. Four men sits on plastic chairs. In a corner are three younger men and a boy relaxing and leaning against some cardboard boxes from Save the Children containing the hygiene items.


"This is a very difficult situation for all of us. My house was completely destroyed in the earthquake. Now 15 peopl, me included, are sleeping in thhis tent. We have nowhere else to go. When it rains like this, everything inside the tent gets soaking wet," Says Hari.


Save the Children staff are working round the clock to deliver relief to the most vulnerable children and their families.


The agency plans to reach 150,000 people — among them 90,000 children — with shelter, household and hygiene kits. These kits include plastic sheeting, mosquito nets, a cook stove, pots, pans, cutlery, soap, toothbrush, detergent and other hygiene items. 


(Pictured below, more than 8,400 shelter kits being unloaded from the first of three airplanes bringing supplies.)



Save the Children has been able to quickly deliver vital supplies to the worst-hit areas because we had items stored in warehouses in Indonesia before the earthquake. Indonesia is prone to natural disasters, and we know that advance preparation is the key to saving lives and mitigating the effects of a crisis,” said Peter Sykes, Save the Children’s team leader in West Sumatra.

Save the Children has worked in Indonesia for over three decades. In recent years, it has responded to nearly all minor, medium-sized and major natural disasters in the country.

In addition to providing immediate relief to children and families after a disaster, the agency helps communities prepare for emergencies and develop the capacity to reduce risks posted by disasters in the future.

Learn more about Save the Children's emergency response in the Asia-Pacific region.

Kraft Foods and Save the Children Team Up in Philippines Emergency

Latha Caleb, Save the Children country director, Philippines

Latha Caleb joined Save the Children in 2005 as director of the tsunami programme in India. She supported the formation of Save the Children India, before moving to the Philippines.

October 9, 2009, Manila

IMG_2646 Today I went to a school where more than a 100 volunteers, all employees of Kraft Foods, were standing in a row and passing the relief items in an assembly line. They all seemed very engaged and full of energy doing this kind of work.

In another school that I visited, the Kraft Foods volunteers were cleaning the school, which is functioning as an evacuation camp.

Kraft Foods and Save the Children have an existing partnership in the Philippines, and our joint response to an emergency situation, such as this one, was a natural coming together.

One scene stays in my mind. As my colleagues and I drove along to the Exodus School in Barangay (village) San Juan, Cainta, we passed mounds and mounds of debris that was piled mountain-high along the road for nearly a kilometer.

We were driving with the car windows rolled up. As we were moving slowly, we suddenly came upon a sight that disturbed us. There were kids on top of the mounds of debris and they were digging into it with bare hands looking for things that they could sell for money. We rolled down the window as we wanted to take some pictures and the smell of hot, rotting garbage hit us.

Typhoons Ketsana and Parma have certainly made poor children’s situation worse, pushing them to work under appalling conditions just to help their parents put food on the table.

Is this the childhood we want to see for our children?

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


Save the Children Provides Supplies to Crowds in Indonesia

Allison Zelkowitz, program manager

Padang, Indonesia

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

October 11, 2009, 11:26 PM

Allison Zelkowitzrszd10.12.doc Our distribution teams had a packed day – with just 14 people, we managed to provide nearly 1,500 families with hygiene kits and household items such as a small gas stove, cooking pots and utensils, mosquito nets and blankets.

Before I arrived in Padang eight days ago, I never knew how much planning, organizing and effort goes into providing needed supplies, or “NFIs,” as they’re called in humanitarian aid lingo. NFIs stands for non-food items.

Besides selecting, procuring, storing, shipping and transporting NFIs, distributing them requires an intensive process. First, Save the Children staff members meet with community leaders, assess the damage in each community, determine each community’s need and help community leaders develop a list of recipients — the people who most need them.

The actual distribution of NFIs usually begins the next day, and that’s when it can get tricky. The goal is to make sure the right goods get to the right families, while maintaining a secure environment for those who are receiving items, as well as for those who are distributing them. Crowds are sometimes unpredictable. 

This evening, as my team began our final distribution of the day, I worried a bit since the crowd seemed more eager than usual, pushing against the tape barrier and repeatedly venturing into the distribution area. But once the distribution process began, the tension somehow turned into festivity.

NFIsindonesia One community member stationed himself at the distribution area exit and blew a shrill whistle at anyone who tried to cross the line. He did this with such zeal and humor that every time he warned someone away, the crowd broke into laughter. Children raced around the perimeter, and neighbors teased each other as they hefted the large boxes away.

At one point, I looked around at the more than 100 faces around me, and realized how impressed I was with the resiliency of people here. About 90 percent of them – children, women and men – no longer have a home. And yet there they were, just one week later, smiling, joking and truly enjoying the moment. 

Learn more about Save the Children's emergency response in the Asia-Pacific region.

Indonesia Quakes Leave Thousands of Children Homeless

Allison Zelkowitz, Save the Children program manager

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

October 9, 2009, 11:00 PM 

Our new field office consists of two bedrooms and a sitting room on the second floor of a large home bordered by rice terraces. This could almost be Bali, if it weren’t for the collapsed houses next door.

The landlady here is about 70 years old and less than five feet tall; she has a wonderful smile. She’s not only housing us, but she’s also taken in 1015 of her neighbors, who sleep on the floor downstairs. This house has become quite a community center – there are always a dozen or more children playing outside or watching TV. Most of these children are now homeless.

IndonChildReszdDSC_0119 Today I brought some crayons, coloring books, paper and markers for our landlady to keep in the house. When I showed them to the kids, I thought they were unimpressed.

But as soon as I walked away, they immediately dove into the box and started drawing. I think many haven’t seen crayons or toys in a week.

Many mothers and teachers have told us that children here have been traumatized by the earthquake.

I’ve heard that some are afraid to leave their parents’ side, and I’ve seen kids jump when a helicopter flies overhead or a large truck trundles past. Yet they still have so much capacity for joy. 


This afternoon I was sitting under a tent surrounded by eight children – their parents were waiting to claim the hygiene kits and shelter materials Save the Children was distributing. I made some faces at the kids for a while, and tried to get them to sing (they refused). But then I showed them the “separating thumb trick,” which they watched with a mix of awe, glee and terror. When I asked if they wanted to learn how to do it, they ran off screaming and giggling. 

Sometimes I love my job.

Learn more about Save the Children's emergency response in the Asia-Pacific region.

Over 2 Weeks Since Typhoon Ketsana, Still No Electricity

Latha Caleb, Save the Children country director, Philippines

Latha Caleb joined Save the Children in 2005 as director of the tsunami programme in India. She supported the formation of Save the Children India, before moving to the Philippines.

Oct. 8, 2009  Manila

LathaReszdIMG_2656 I visited our driver Ruel’s home today. His home was washed over fully in the flood. I met Ruel, his wife Rose Ann, and his 5 children.

His home – or whatever remained –had clothesline strung all across and there were clothes drying. Every side of the wall in his home was broken.

It is more than two weeks since Ketsana raged in Manila, and still Ruel‘s home did not have electricity, and we had to look around using flashlights. 

Ruel had lost weight and looked tired. He said that he was most worried for his children. The only way he could save them from getting drowned in the water was to break open the walls on the sides so that the water would drain through and not stagnate and rise up to the roof level.

All around his home there were visible signs of debris and houses that had collapsed. Many homes still had water logging and people living in those homes had elevated all their belongings whatever they had salvaged on to a higher level.

Ruel said that his son wanted to go to school, but all his books and his school bag were lost to the swirling waters. I had carried with me the message from Carolyn Miles and from Charlie MacCormack and gave it to Ruel.

We used a flash light to read it together and as he read the note I could see tears glistening in the corner of Ruel’s eyes. He was so touched by the note. Maraming Salamat Po – that is thank you very much in Filipino, was all he could say.

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

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. 

Vietnam: Making Sense of Cyclone Ketsana

Nick Finney, Save the Children Emergency Response Team Leader

Oct. 6, 2009.  Quang Tri, Vietnam

Nick finney_233 I’m with two colleagues on the way to Quang Tri, where the most serious reports are coming from in Vietnam.  Its 22.00 and our conversation has digressed – we’re all very tired and can’t take in much more tonight. Talk in the car is descending we’re speculating about what 'Ketsana' means. We’ve two theories – theory one, Ketsana means full moon in Filipino, theory two, Ketsana is a perfumed tree from Lao. Or maybe a perfumed cheese.

It’s good not to know and not to be able to find out and in any case I heard that Google is killing general knowledge. There’s a full moon festival this weekend – a big day for children in Vietnam. They get gifts, run around banging big drums and dress up as dragons – it looks like great fun.  Full moon festival seems to be on in the big cities like Dan and Hue, but there’s no sign of it in any of the places we visited today. Still too much to sort out and too much suffering.

Today started OK, then got quite frustrating, then confusing, then a meltdown. And then we got it together. 200 more packages distributed to families containing essential supplies – reaching approximately 1,000 people. 

Tomorrow will be crucial – I hope we got it right. We’re making a long journey and our aim will be to finalise a plan to get us into the thick of an emergency phase. By the end of the week, we hope to get aid to 5,000 more families – that’s about 15,000 children. 5,000 of them will be under five and highly vulnerable to diseases like diarrheoea and malaria.

Lots of reports today of acute respiratory infection, eye infection and skin disease following the flood. Children in affected communities in Vietnam, as ever in all emergencies, are suffering the most.

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