Indonesia – The First Time I’ve Cried

Allison Zelkowitz, program manager, Save the Children

Oct. 5, 2009, 11:40pm, Indonesia

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


Allison Zelkowitz It’s hard to believe I’ve only been here four days – it feels like weeks! Our team is working very long hours, both here in the field and in our coordination centers. I don’t think twice about calling or texting my team members at midnight, because I know they’ll be up for at least two more hours. The urgency of this situation keeps us going. Hundreds of thousands of people – including children – are still trying to meet their basic needs. Today I spoke to a number of women who were gathering rainwater in order to bathe and wash their clothes. Save the Children is continuing to provide shelter materials, and I saw people rigging the tarps as soon as they left the distribution post. In nearly every village, community members take turns standing by the main road, flagging down passing cars and gathering donations. Most use these funds immediately to buy food to cook communal meals.

Save the Children has reached an estimated 4,600 people in the last two days, including over 2,700 children, with family hygiene kits, household supplies, and shelter materials. But there are so many more that need help. Tomorrow we’re traveling to more remote villages northwest of here, near Lake Maninjau. Our team leader toured the area this afternoon – in some communities, every house has collapsed. We’ll do a rapid assessment of the area tomorrow morning and start distributing supplies tomorrow afternoon. 

Today, at one of the distribution sites, I spoke to a 54-year-old woman whose mother was killed in the earthquake. I didn’t expect this – there were fewer casualties in rural areas because most homes are only one story high, and people have time to escape. When she told me her story her eyes started welling up, and although I tried to suppress them, mine did as well. In the four years that I’ve been working in development and humanitarian agencies, this is the first time I’ve cried.

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

Philippines: A Makeshift Float for a Baby

Latha Caleb, Save the Children country director, Philippines

Oct. 5, 2009  Manila, Philippines

Latha _233 Another day of frenzied activity. More meetings to attend, packages to be delivered to the communities, plan our strategy, get more staff into the response, get the assessment teams cracking, answer emails and phone calls from donors, for partners, from other program staff, from friends….

I had a meeting with the European Commission today. Prior to the meeting, we went to pick up a colleague whose house was totally washed out by the floods.  I was so shocked by the ravaged walls and the height the water had reached. It was over 6 feet. It has been more than a week now, and still electricity is not restored. The refrigerator is not working, so food is literally managed on an every-meal basis. My colleague has spent a lot of time cleaning and salvaging belongings from the water. There is no bed, no mattress, no pillows. Everything that could be salvaged was drying—shoes, clothes, papers, photographs, documents.

At the EC meeting, one of the local staff came to offer us coffee. I asked her, “How are you and how was the floods in your area?” She paused for a moment and said, “The water level came up to the second floor of our house and we were very scared. My neighbors’ houses were at a lower level than ours and they had a baby who was only a few months old. They were very worried about the baby, so they came to our home for safety. We were all crowded into the second floor space and were praying for the water to recede. The water was swirling. We were more scared that we will not be able to save the baby. We looked around and found some of the cooking oil cans that we had moved to the second floor. We opened the cans and threw out all the oil… put together a few cans and tied them up with strings and made a small float bed to put the baby in. We tied strings to the float bed and tested to make sure we were able to hold on while swimming to safety.” She then quickly apologized and asked us if we would like some coffee and left.

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