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Reflections on the 2004 Tsunami

  • December 4, 2008

Rachel Granger, vice-president of post-emergency response, helped lead relief efforts in Indonesia after a giant tsunami killed over 225,000 people the day after Christmas in 2004.

As the anniversary of the tsunami approaches, Rachel recently returned to Indonesia to review the work AmeriCares has done over the last 4 years. She shares with us her experiences from the field including her first visit after the tsunami struck and subsequent visits to see the progress of rehabilitation programs supported by AmeriCares.

I was in Indonesia soon after the tsunami, not far from where the massive wave struck. Imagine a lush and green paradise – and then imagine everything destroyed well up into the mountains. Several miles inland, we saw a 5-story barge washed ashore by the powerful tsunami wave.

As we drove on washed-out roads and rugged dirt paths, I surveyed the destruction that had destroyed this Indonesian coast. Each bend and curve of the road revealed a new scene of devastation. The scale and completeness of the destruction was overwhelming but nothing could prepare us for the mass graves – some with thousands of people.

Fast Facts on AmeriCares Tsunami Work in Indonesia


  • 27 health care facilities constructed or rehabilitated including village health posts, public health centers and child care centers
  • 178 health care facilities supplied with equipment, medicine and medical consumables including hospitals, clinics, health posts, training centers, laboratories and mental health units
  • 15,155 households protected from malaria and dengue fever with integrated prevention measures
  • 6,051 health workers trained including doctors, nurses, midwives and community health volunteers


  • 6,929 household equipped with new livelihood materials and supplies
  • 3,575 individuals trained in new livelihood activities
  • 16 economic infrastructure projects completed, including the construction of the Lampulo wholesale fish market in Banda Aceh, including irrigation systems and fish ponds
  • 38 community training centers constructed or rehabilitated

Clean Water

  • 11 large-scale clean water systems or reservoirs constructed for 33,875 people
  • 37 water management groups trained
  • 192 latrine blocks constructed


  • 5 schools constructed or rehabilitated, including: 
  • 1 secondary school
  • 2 primary schools
  • 2 kindergartens

We braced ourselves and then set out for the task at hand – helping survivors in the aftermath.

With medicines, supplies and safe water sources destroyed by the disaster, doctors and health care workers who survived the tsunami were left without the resources they needed to care for thousands of patients. AmeriCares assessed the most pressing needs and quickly delivered three airlifts of medicines, medical supplies and water purification treatments.

Once immediate concerns were taken care of, we worked to rebuild the local health care system – including a lab for health tests run by Dr. Ormaya. When the tsunami hit, most of Dr. Ormaya’s senior lab technicians were killed in the tragedy. She worked tirelessly, but what she needed was new lab equipment and trained workers. AmeriCares funded several training programs and the construction of a new training center. The well-staffed lab now conducts medical tests to help diagnose patients from all over the region.

But labs were just one part of the challenge – Indonesia needed people to provide direct patient care and health education. In response, AmeriCares supported programs to train young women as volunteer health workers in their communities.

On my first trip to observe the program, I was delighted to see the enthusiasm of the young women in the program. On the second trip, the young women had graduated from the training program and were now teaching classes. While they taught in the class room, their babies received check-ups while older children took health education courses. One class I visited was singing the local version of “head, shoulders, knees and toes … knees and toes” – it brings about just as many giggles there as it does back home in the States.

When I recently returned to Indonesia, I recognized some of the same young women from that early training program. They were energetic and amazingly well organized. As health educators, not only were they vibrant, but they also created a spark of interest in their patients.

While there are hopeful spirits, many are still haunted by the loss of their children and loved ones. Ask any one on the street and they will tell you their tsunami story. Their memories are as vivid today as it was when it first happened four years ago – a sign of severe trauma.

During my most recent visit, I traveled the same roads from my first tour immediately after the tsunami. You could hardly tell the tsunami had happened. There was hope, energy and determination. Today, health clinics and markets have been rebuilt; new homes with new roofs now dot the country side. And while the new roofs mark progress, they also serve as reminders of who lived there before the Tsunami of 2004.