Dear Friends and Family,
Selamat malam - good evening from Jakarta. This update regarding "Boats for Aceh" is long overdue. I
apologize for the lapse in communication. I have been hoping that I would have definitive information to
share. However, I am learning that the road to helping the people of Aceh is long and winding. One
needs passion and patience.
My fourth trip to Aceh Province took place in September, just a couple of weeks after my return from the
States. Our driver Iyan accompanied me to serve as translator and to see the devastation first-hand.
Iyan who happens to be just one year older than our son Andrew has been a part of the project from the
beginning - reading and translating emails, making phone calls, setting up appointments, etc. Jerry and I
decided that Iyan's skills would be very helpful and that he had certainly earned an adventure.
Iyan enjoyed the trip a great deal and he was, indeed, a huge help to me. He made many new friends and
learned much more about this part of his country than he had known before. The window seat on his
second-ever airplane ride kept him busy during most of the flight. Once in Aceh, he was surprised by how
"liberal" the city is compared to the stories that are told about the ultra conservative nature of Acehnese
society. I had told him many times that being in Aceh was no different than being in Jakarta. Apparently
he did not believe me for he stated with pleasant surprise, "I am Indonesian and I don't believe this." He
was also surprised by the vastness of the devastation even though he had seen tons of television
coverage. Jerry had given Iyan an old digital camera so Iyan very soberly documented his perspective for
his friends and family in Jakarta. He heard many personal stories and learned much that I had not been
able to understand due to the language barrier. He was able to share that information with me thereby
giving me an even deeper appreciation of the bravery and resilience of the people.
We first met with Eric Lyman of Austin International Rescue and Relief Operations. Since AIRO has
provided boats for other fishermen, we wanted to learn form their success. Eric was shopping in the
nearby marketplace so we waited in a neighborhood "coffee shop." This was my first taste of coffee Aceh
style. Having watched the process more than once, I still can not figure out how all the pouring back and
forth and straining through various cloths works. However, how could coffee sweetened with condensed
milk possibly be anything other than delicious?!
Iyan (left) and Eric Lyman
Our next stop was the Islamic boarding school (pesantren) that I have visited many times. Iyan was able
to explain to me that the first residents of the pesantren were children who had lost a parent(s) to the civil
war which had been a part of everyday life for the people of Aceh for the past thirty years. In August of
2005 a peace accord between the government and the rebels who wanted freedom from Indonesia was
signed. The peace accord seems to be working. I have heard that the rebels are very committed to
honoring the agreement and thereby ending the conflict. While we were at the pesantren, one of the boys
asked Iyan to read a paper he had written for a school assignment. The paper told the story of the boy's
finding his father who had been killed by "the other side." The boy was very young to have experienced
so much life.
The more recent additions to the pesantren population are children who lost a parent(s) to the tsunami.
The number of children has grown from a pre-tsunami count of twelve to approximately seventy! The
leader of the pesantren was not there so we had a very lively visit with the children. I asked them what
they needed. They came up with a long list of "needs" including everything from school uniforms to
calculators to Indonesian dictionaries (Apparently not all the children speak Bahasa Indonesia. Many of
them speak Bahasa Aceh or other local dialects.) to soccer balls to toys.
Children of the Pesantren
During our four days in Aceh Province, we drove down the coast to Sigli. Sigli was hard hit by the tsunami.
After my first visit to Aceh, I wanted to return. The leader of the group of college-aged kids with whom I stayed
was not comfortable with my joining his group again. The reason he gave was there were concerns for my
safety. The volunteers were going to work with the children of Sigli, an area known to be ripe for conflict
between TNI (the government forces) and GAM (the rebels). Now that the peace accord is in place the drive
was an interesting trip to yet another part of the province.
Iyan and a lady in Sigli talk about how
the tsunami ruined her salt making
business. She seemed so forlorn as
she shook her head and repeated,
"Tsunami. Tsunami. Tsunami."
The area around the bridge serves as
a "diner" for the monkeys.
We, of course, visited the tent city of my friends - many times. I had been told via email that the number
of residents in Pantai Cermin had grown to sixty eight. Even so, I was surprised to see so many tents
spread out along both sides of the road. Several of the men have married or remarried since the
tsunami so there is now a bit of a feminine touch in the camp. I could not even imagine how we would be
able to help all the fishermen who now live in this area. As it turned out, many of the new people are not
fishermen after all. Whew!
Now to get to the point: About the boats - I think it would be easiest to list what we have learned (or think
we have learned) since my return to Indonesia in September. This is an evolving scenario so one must
remain as flexible as possible in an attempt to provide assistance. Following are general "truths" and
"truths" specific to Pantai Cermin:
1. The "powers that be" are now very involved in the restoration of the fishing industry.
2. Structure is needed in order to protect the supply and demand facets of the industry.
3. The first goal is to get men who were fishermen before the tsunami back on the water.
4. In some areas that means no new fishermen. In areas where extraordinary numbers of
fishermen died, people who now want to fish can be supplied with boats. Safety is an issue in
these cases since fishing can be very dangerous to novices.
5. All gifts of boats must be approved by at least three levels of officials. I have been told that it is
now illegal to provide boats without the proper authorization.
6. Boats must be built by skilled craftsmen. A previous lack of quality control resulted in many
boats that were not seaworthy.
1. In a meeting with my fishermen friends, we suggested a co-op similar to the concept that they had
proposed to me. They were no longer sure that the "paying it forward" method would work. Apparently,
time and restlessness have brought division and distrust. I guess this isn't really surprising - sad, but not
2. After many meetings, a list of men who had boats before the tsunami and who had earned their
livings by fishing was compiled. This list contained 14 names.
Apit and Fandi work on the list of qualified boat recipients.
3. This list was sent for the signatures of the three proper authorities.
4. We will provide as many boats as we can fund. (By the way, almost $9400 was donated for boats and
$600 for the restaurant.)
5. AIRO will oversee the building of the boats and the submitting of the paperwork. They will work to help
provide boats for the remaining fishermen who live in Pantai Cermin.
6. Each boat will be owned by two fishermen. AIRO has agreements and official paperwork to be signed
by both parties.
7. During the fasting month of Ramadan progress was somewhere between slow and non existent.
Therefore, our boats are scheduled for delivery within the next three months. This time frame is
disappointing to me but seems to be unavoidable.
I hope to make another trip to Aceh in December. If the current plan does not look doable, I will regroup. I
will try to meet with the authorities to ask for their suggestions and/or assistance. If for one reason or
another the need for boats has been met (which I seriously doubt), I will explore alternate ways to use the
money to help people return to work. If you have any questions and/or reservations, please feel free to
Again, I want to thank you all for your interest, for your contributions and for your prayers. I can hardly wait
to send pictures of the accomplished task!