In Mentawai, Catholic Church and associations help refugees abandoned by the government


The government and foreign organisations have left victims to their fate only weeks after the tsunami struck on 26 October because of high costs and difficult communications. Nine Caritas volunteers from Padang and other diocesan associations braved three-metre waves to bring aid to hundreds of families stuck on Sikakap and Sipora Islands for the past two months.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Caritas and Indonesian Catholic associations continue their work on behalf of the people affected by the 26 October tsunami that hit the Mentawai Islands. At present, they are the only humanitarian organisations left in the area. Indonesian and foreign agencies have had to leave a few weeks after the tragedy because of difficult logistics and high costs. The group of islands is about 10 hours by plane from Padang and continues to be battered by storms, which often make maritime communications impossible.

“When natural disasters strike in Indonesia, national and foreign humanitarian groups respond immediately to the emergency, but after a few weeks they leave,” said Irene Setiadi, who runs the Catholic charity Kelompok Bakti Kasih Kemanusiaan (KBKK). “The KBKK and other groups move in to help survivors in areas that are harder to reach by normal rescue agencies,” she told AsiaNews.

As a matter of course, before getting involved her group contacts local leaders to get a picture of the situation. It also tries to cover areas the government and the international community do not. In the case of the Mentawai, the KBKK and other diocesan associations sent nine volunteers to Sikakap and Sipora, the hardest hit and hardest to reach islands of the archipelago.

Most survivors are currently forced to stay in makeshift shelters, not knowing when they might leave, because of slow government action, she said.

“Our main goal is to bring aid to anyone who needs it, especially the forgotten victims,” she explained. “The Holy Spirit drove us to Sipora Island where we presented the love of God and the Church’s compassion to the victims of the tsunami.”

Fr Christo Yohan, a Franciscan missionary, is one of the mission’s coordinators. He said his group had to brave three-metre waves and ocean storms to reach the island. Some 66 families are living in emergency shelters, but another 143 are without a roof. “Residents urgently asked us to bring a power generator, clean water cans and sanitation facilities,” he said.

For the missionary, the government’s action has been woefully inadequate. Nothing of what was promised after the tsunami has yet to be built.

“A promise is a promise,” he noted, “but in reality they have not yet started building the temporary shelter they promised for Christmas,” he said.

In order to be close to the mostly Christian residents, the volunteers celebrated Mass under a temporary structure. However, “What touched us was the sight of so many young people who will not see their parents anymore because they are dead or missing,” the priest said.

by Mathias Hariyadi


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