World Vision ambassador Melissa Doyle, pictured with Nadia and her son Mohammed. Photo: New Idea
Ten years ago on Boxing Day I was at an annual reunion barbeque. I come from Adelaide, but friends I grew up with from school and university have ended up in all corners of the world.
These friends would come home for Christmas to see their family. Every Boxing Day we would catch up – it was time for friends.
2004 was like any other year. Friends at the barbeque, spending the day talking (a lot), laughing (loudly) and playing cricket (badly).The usual gang were there – Al, studying for his Masters in psychology in Sydney. Pete, musician and student of public policy in Melbourne. Ben T, musician and transport consultant, home from Melbourne. Ben F, our friend in London, musician and tour guide in the French Alps.
Firstly, the shocking images of the destruction this wave had wrought. Entire villages flattened, debris everywhere. Over time the hard truth of the impact emerged:
• 227,000 people killed
• 160,000 of those in the Indonesian province of Aceh.
• 1 in 4 families in Aceh lost a family member.
My other memory is the response from Australians. The natural human reaction to seeing these pictures was “what can I do?”.
We sent our best people to help with the recovery and like never before or since, we gave money – lots of money. It was the biggest donation spike ever from Australians as we responded to our nearest neighbours in their hour of need. World Vision alone received $118 Million in donations.
I recently spent a week in Aceh seeing how that money was spent. I was with World Vision Ambassador Mel Doyle, visiting communities affected by the tsunami who have rebuilt their lives. I have heard the most heartbreaking stories of people who lost their home and their family.
Every story starts with “it was a Sunday morning”. Sunday morning – a time for peace and reflection – not death and devastation.
Other than the stories and the beautiful memorials in every town, you would never know a tsunami had come through here 10 years ago.
The whole area has been rebuilt – schools, roads and bridges. New houses that are now homes. Livelihoods have been restored – new fishing boats, coffee shops, and roadside stalls selling the dried fish for which Aceh is famous. Lives have been put back together. Families reunited and new families created.
Every story starts with “it was a Sunday morning”, but ends with “thank you to our friends in Australia for their help”.
On the trip I met Muhammed. He turns 10 this Boxing Day. He and I played with a pink plastic ball in his driveway. It was an improvised game, a sort of cross between volleyball, cricket and soccer – maybe I’d play something like this with my friends on Boxing Day?
On that Sunday morning in 2004, Muhammed’s mother Nadia went into labour. With the help of her husband and neighbours, she dragged herself on top of a nearby mountain to escape the rising waters.
Muhammed was born on top of that mountain on Boxing Day, just before midnight.
He was wrapped in rags a neighbour had grabbed from the waters. He and Nadia stayed on the mountain for three days until they were carried down on stretchers.
Muhammed’s house has been rebuilt. His village has been reconstructed. He is healthy and happy. In the past 10 years, his family’s life has been restored.
A lot can happen in 10 years.
This Boxing Day, I will be thinking of my friends, old and new.
Al, the Psychologist with his wife and three sons in Wollongong. Pete, the Transport Executive, with his wife and daughter around the corner from me in Melbourne. Ben T, in Adelaide, government project officer and playing gigs with his partner. Ben F, back from the UK with his Welsh wife, both physiotherapists. Their daughter turns one in February.
Muhammed, it was a pleasure meeting you. Never forget what your mum did so you could live.
Never forget that in the darkest times, there is still hope. And that friends will be there to help. From devastation, life can be rebuilt.
Happy Birthday for Boxing Day, my friend.