Clearing the rubble and finding purpose

This December’s fatal tsunami in Indonesia’s Banten province comes on the heels of an earthquake and tsunami just three months earlier in Palu, where UNDP is working with families to rebuild their communities and help to deal with their trauma.

Indonesians earn money for cleaning up their village in the wake of September’s tsunami.

Evelyn Lamakampali had built a reputation as a superwoman in her village, long before a powerful earthquake destroyed 80 percent of the houses in her community, including her own.

As an ojek (motorcycle taxi) driver, the 53-year-old grandmother was the go-to person for the women and girls in Jono Oge village who needed transportation. “I was the only female ojek driver here,” she says.

With lack of reliable public transportation, ojek is one of the most convenient ways to get around in Indonesia. The two-wheeled vehicles are able to manoeuvre the unpaved streets that cut through jungles and agricultural fields.

“Every day I used to get calls in the morning, requesting me to take them to Palu or on a short trip to the market. I even took many out-of-town bookings, travelling on the bike for hours,” she said.

However the trusty ojek can be of no use when an entire village is struggling to get back on its feet. With little money circulating, Evelyn’s business dried up.

Starting from scratch

“After the quake, I was doing nothing. I just stayed in a tent outside my house. So, when I saw the lineup (for Cash for Work registration) outside the village’s church, I immediately joined.”

It was not just for the financial reward and the health insurance.

“I needed the money, but for me it’s also about having some purposeful things to do. The whole time I was on it (clearing the rubble), I didn’t think about the quake anymore. I stopped worrying for a while,” Evelyn says.

UNDP’s Cash for Work gave Evelyn money and purpose.

Evelyn was one of dozens of Indonesian women involved in rebuilding her community through UNDP’s Cash for Work programme. Her village, a community of vegetable farmers and traders, was hit badly by the late September 2018 earthquake and tsunami, which killed more than 565 people and displaced 400-thousand others in Indonesia’s Central Sulawesi province.

Cash for Work is part of the UNDP’s rapid disaster relief programme of US$ 1.4 million. Funding comes from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund, and UNDP.

The first stage ran for 25 days and involved 300 villagers who were hired to clear debris from quake-stricken homes and schools. They also worked on community improvement projects such as road repair.

The second phase kicks off in January and will be much bigger, involving at least 3,200 villagers — of which 40 percent are women — in several districts. It’ll run for three months.

Strong women step up

Vegetable farmer Dahlia Darman’s cash crop of corn and lettuce was destroyed by the quake.

She didn’t mind the hard labour the programme entailed, because she’s used to performing a physically demanding job under the scorching sun. Being stronger, Dahlia was placed in a predominantly male group whose main task was tearing down damaged buildings with sledgehammers.

“The Ibu-Ibu (adult women) in our village are quite strong physically,” said Dahlia, her sun-baked face crinkling into a smile. “So for me collecting debris in the heat is so much better that staying in the camp, doing nothing and wondering about what we should do next.”

It was just before Christmas when UNDP team spoke to Dahlia and Evelyn after wrapping up their last day on the programme. They’d each earned two million rupiah ($US145) and they both had the same priorities in spending it — home repairs and Christmas celebration.

“We need to be grateful for what we have left, and Christmas is the time to express our gratitude,” said Evelyn in a philosophical tone, before adding; “When is the next programme? I want to be in it again.”


Words by Tomi Soetjipto

Photos by UNDP/Olyvianus Marthen P Lado