October 12th, 2009
08:23 PM ET

Resiliency in Indonesia

Editor's Note: At least 608 people were killed in Indonesia following two devastating earthquakes more than a week ago. Hundreds are still missing and authorities fear the death toll will climb as more bodies are found in the rubble.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/asiapcf/10/05/indonesia.earthquake.school/rubble.classroom.art.jpg caption="Students inspect their damaged classroom, with tables broken and shards littering the ground."]

Allison Zelkowitz
Program Manager, Save the Children in Indonesia

October 11, 2009, 11:26 pm

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 (which I’ve always thought a rather vague term).

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.

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 what for many people would be a dull and draining wait.

I’m not saying that communities have recovered from the disaster — far from it. But I do think that attitudes and character like this will live.

Editor's Note: Save the Children is an independent organization creating lasting change for children in need around the world. For more than 80 years, Save the Children has been helping children survive and thrive by improving their health, education and economic opportunities and, in times of acute crisis, mobilizing rapid lifesaving assistance to help children recover from the effects of war, conflict and natural disasters.

To learn about ways you can make a difference, visit Impact Your World.

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