Despite tears caused by lost loved ones, in the village of Pulot a group of nearly 100 women are celebrating the tsunami. Photo by Mark Nonkes, World Vision
The best thing?
The worst natural disaster of the last 40 years was the best thing that ever happened to Khairani?
Did she just say that?
“There are many valuable things we got from the tsunami,” 30-year-old Khairani repeats. “When God took something from us, he gave back more than he took. The tsunami was not a punishment for our community.”
Remembering the disaster
Khairani doesn’t say this lightly.
She remembers the horror of the disaster.
She lost too.
As a university student who had just moved to the city of Banda Aceh, Khairani remembers the warning.
“We saw the tsunami, it was at our back, just about five metres away. It was a miracle we were saved. Even our neighbours were not. But we rode away on our motorcycle. I thought it was doomsday,” Khairani says.
She also remembers trying to return home to her oceanfront village, to her mother.
“One day after the tsunami, I finally found some relatives and I asked about my mother. They told me she passed away, that my village was destroyed,” Khairani says quietly.
Visiting her hometown in ruin
Khairani needed to check for herself.
The scenes from that journey still reduce her to tears. She continues to be haunted by that boat ride.
“I saw bodies floating in the sea. I was crying. I thought maybe it was my mom,” she says.
“At that time I prayed that it would be better not to find the body of my mother if it were in that condition,” Khairani says.
“All my friends have depression and stress because they saw the bodies of loved ones,” she adds.
Helping children recover
In the months that followed, Khairani threw herself into her education. She focused on her training to be a teacher.
When she graduated in 2005, she joined World Vision’s emergency response. She became a Child-Friendly Space facilitator, helping heal the emotional trauma children affected by the disaster faced.
“We had many activities with the children – it healed me from the pain,” Khairani says.
In April 2006, Kairani married her best friend, Surdirman, a man who lived in the village where she grew up. A year later, the couple had a baby girl and Khairani stopped leading Child-Friendly Space sessions.
Leading a group of women to success
Instead, Khairani got involved in another World Vision supported activity — a women’s group.
“We’re bringing our community to a higher level,” Khairani says.
The group started a savings and loan program and trained individual members to start their own small businesses. For the three following years, World Vision provided training on accounting and running a cooperative and helped the women get legal status for their cooperative.
“Now a mother who just finished her elementary school education can make money so that she can ensure her children go to school. From their businesses, women are adding rooms to their houses,” Khairani explains.
There are 97 members in the saving and loans group. Now, across their village, women are running businesses from their homes. They sell snacks, bake cookies, serve coffee or dry sardines, among other things.
“Abuse in the family is lower than before the tsunami. Women are more respected by their husbands. They (the men) want to listen to the women’s opinion now. Things are better. They can listen, not just speak.”
Optimistic for the next generation
Outside her own small shop that sells candy, coffee and cleaning products, Khairani tells us these are the reasons she’s grateful that the tsunami came. Not for the loss or destruction. But for the opportunities it presented.
Today, Khairani is a third grade teacher. Her baby girl Alifa Iza Salsabila is now seven and learning to read and write.
“I want her to study more than me,” Khairani says as she watches her daughter do her homework. “Maybe Alifa will get her master’s. She should get something higher than her parents.”