It’s a month since the last of five devastating earthquakes ravaged the island of Lombok over three weeks, killing hundreds and leaving about 170,000 people homeless.
Perth marriage celebrant Liz Hayes was holidaying in Bali when the quakes occurred, and like other other Aussie tourists, felt the need to get across to Lombok and do something to help.
We asked Liz to tell us what it was like jumping in to get involved, and she wrote this piece for us:
The moment I heard what what had happened in Lombok, I realised I had to help. After doing some fundraising with friends, I realised that wasn’t quite enough. I needed to go to Lombok myself, to ensure the goods made it safely to the right people.
As I was deciding how to go about it, I was invited by a young Balinese friend, Wibi, to join his expedition. ( I had met Wibi when he’d studied in Perth; first at Hale School and then later at Curtin University)
Wibi’s family and friends were taking four car loads of goods to small communities in desperate need.
Our ferry was almost empty of people –though filled with cargo and trucks.
Arriving in Lombok, I was surprised to see that on the surface, at least, life looked to be as normal. Fruit and vegetable stalls abounded on roadsides, filled with local produce. But it quickly became obvious – there were no customers. No tourists were here, meaning almost no income for the locals.
One of our first tasks was to find a hotel in Mataram, with the important requirement of ground floor rooms, with fast and easy exits to open space in case of further shakes. (We were lucky during my time on the island, with only minor quakes felt, although further large ones followed a few days later).
The logistics part began with dropping some supplies into a central holding area, for distribution later, as well as meetings with community leaders who had identified villages and areas for us to visit over the next few days.
We wanted to reach communities that had received little outside help.
Our group visited numerous communities in the north west part of the island, including some of the Balinese Hindu communities who number less than 10 per cent of Lombok’s inhabitants, distributing goods at every point.
In some areas, doctors and medical treatment were the most important requirements; in others it was rice and clean drinking water. Plans for future rebuilding were formulated, with agreements reached on financial aid and professional expertise needed.
Communities were asked to identify people within their groups who were best suited to take on the communication and leadership roles, so that the despair and helplessness could be turned into action and renewed hope.
I stayed with the group for two days, with my main role as the only westerner, being that of reassurance I believe – letting the local people know that ‘the outside world’ cared about them also.
And with my limited knowledge of the Indonesian language, I also became the ‘entertainment’, as the children in particular, gathered around to laugh at me trying to make myself understood! We did OK.
Thankfully the earthquake had struck early evening, so that people were mostly still awake – otherwise the death toll would have been so much higher. In one village I visited, there were about 30 houses completely flattened and only one person had died – because he had been unwell and was in bed sleeping. Small mercies.
I often felt like crying, when I saw how much had been lost. However, it would have been self-indulgent to give in to tears, when those whose lives had been drastically changed had no time for crying.
And so I sat with the women and we chatted. I laughed with the children who thought everything I did or said, was hilarious. And I shook hands with many brave and dignified men, young and old, who still looked pretty overawed by the task ahead. As one young man said to me: “None of us is brave. We are all terrified when the earthquakes come. The noise is terrible and it feels like the ground wants to open and eat us.
Because of the communal way in which Indonesian societies operate, it is felt that most people have been accounted for. This community awareness and spirit also sees those who have very little, nonetheless reaching out to those who have absolutely nothing. Young musicians in towns holding busking evenings, gathering donations for rice and water to take to their neighbours who lost everything.
The NGOs and Religious groups of different denominations continue to help with distribution of medical aid, food and water. To date the Indonesian Government has been reluctant to accept foreign aid, for a number of reasons. However, the fact that there is a Presidential election coming up is seen as a positive as there is a lot of focus on the government to see what is being done for Lombok.
And what now? Well, slowly travellers and tourists are beginning to trickle back to south Lombok and to the Gilis, which is important as this is where jobs and hope are. From what I could see, only man-made structures were damaged by the quakes – trees and farmland seemed unaffected.
The farmers do seem to have food to sell, but they need customers with money in their pockets – which is why Lombok will need the tourists to return at some stage. But how soon this poor island can recover remains to be seen.
I travelled with Alumni SLUA 1 Saraswati Denpasar – a wonderful group of Balinese people, who will continue to mentor and support several Lombok communities in the months ahead.
These ethical organisations, having all worked in Indonesia for many years, have the cultural understanding and experience to achieve a great deal within traumatised communities.
Right now, in my opinion, cash is what is needed most – so if you can, please choose one of the above groups and offer whatever small amount you can. In an area where the weekly wage is about $30 to $40, every bit helps.
Lombok may no longer be in the headlines, but of course, many thousands of people there remain homeless and in dire need of ongoing support. If more Australians perhaps consider dropping in to this lovely island during their next visit to Bali, it will help get tourism there back on its feet.
For me, the goal is to return next year and trek to the top of Mt Rinjani…. Feel free to join me!
The first earthquake (6.4) was on 29 July, followed by another on 5 August (7), with two more on 19 August (6.5 and 6.9 respectively). The death toll is reportedly 555, with more than 431,000 people displaced. Estimated damage costs are expected to reach more than AU $750,000,000.