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The American Red Cross Podcast Transcription

TH: Hello and welcome, listeners! My name is Terry Harvey, Vice President of Cultural Programs at Meridian International Center, a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C. I’m joined by Sydney Morton from the American Red Cross and Arifin Muhammad Hadi from the Indonesian Red Cross to discuss their experiences working for the Red Cross after the natural disasters in fall 2018 in Indonesia. This podcast will grant insight into the partnership between their two organizations and the incredible work they achieved in Indonesia. So, let’s begin! First off, thank you Sydney and Arifin for joining me here today. Let’s start with Sydney. Can you tell me how you first became involved with the American Red Cross?  

SM: Sure, thank you so much for having us! I first became involved with the American Red Cross three years ago. I joined the national headquarters in Washington, D.C. as part of the International Services Department. Since then, I’ve worked with global volunteers at Red Cross and Red Crescent societies around the globe, and more recently spent time doing external relations with members of the media and different partners around the world. That’s actually what led me to my work in Indonesia, which I know we’ll talk about today.

TH: Great! And Arifin, could you explain a little bit more about how you became involved with the Indonesian Red Cross?

AH (1:45-2:19): Yes, I have been involved with the Indonesian Red Cross-national program since 2001. My first position was as manager for the Committee of Disaster Preparedness, located within the Red Cross, also called PMI. And now, currently, I am the head of the Disaster Management Division at the Indonesian Red Cross-national headquarters. My role is to lead and to manage the Disaster Management Services and also to build partnerships and work with other institutions and agencies.

TH: Great. And Sydney, if you could explain a little bit about what your current role is with the American Red Cross?

SM: Sure. We actually have a network of 191 other Red Cross/Red Crescent Societies in nearly every country around the world, as well as the IFRC and ICRC. Currently, I’m focused more so domestically within the United States working with different corporate partners and donors to engage them in our mission across the U.S.

TH: Great! Diving in to more substance here, perhaps each of you could describe what exactly happened in Indonesia during the fall of 2018?

SM: Sure, we can share a little bit more about the fall disasters this year. I’ll start by saying that there was a series of disasters that took place in Indonesia a few months ago, kicking off with several earthquakes on the island of Lombok. On July 29th, there was a massive earthquake in the middle of the night. It was 6.4 in magnitude. That night, many people on the island of Lombok lost their lives. Just a few days later, the start of August, on the fifth, another really destructive earthquake hit. That one was 7.0 in magnitude. It didn’t stop there, tragically. A few days later, on August 9th, another 5.9 magnitude earthquake struck Lombok. Then, 10 days later, two more came, back to back, that were each greater than 6.5 in magnitude. And so, in just the course of several weeks, the island of Lombok was affected by this series of each truly devastating earthquakes, which affected thousands and thousands of people across the island. I arrived to Indonesia at that point, in August, and three out of every four buildings on the island were severely damaged, if not destroyed, by that point. Really, at the time I arrived in August, the ground hadn’t stopped shaking. There were over 2,000 aftershocks in the fall. If you just take a moment to think about the impact of 2,000 massive tremors going on on a daily and weekly basis, and the type of impact that has on school, on health, on piece of mind—that’s what the landscape looked like in Lombok. From there, as you know, in late September, on September 28th, Indonesia was affected by another series of disasters in Sulawesi, which is thousands of miles away from Lombok, but… absolutely devastating. They experienced an earthquake, followed by a tsunami, and then a series of landslides and soil liquefaction that quite literally swallowed villages on the island of Sulawesi. There, 175,000 people were displaced and more than 4,000 people were killed. So, across both Lombok and Sulawesi, more than 640,000 people were affected. If you can take a moment to think about 500,000 people, children and elderly and families, still living in temporary shelters in Lombok alone. The scale was immense. I will just point out that there was also in December another tsunami that affected Indonesia in the Sundra Strait. It’s known as the Krakatoa Tsunami, and it came in the middle of the night. There was lots of media coverage around this, and it affected hundreds of people. Nearly 200 people lost their lives in that tsunami as well.

TH: Quite a tragic sequence of events. Arifin, I wonder if you could speak a bit to the great work that the Red Cross has done. Really, a question I have is: where does one begin with such a massive disaster relief effort?

AH (7:05-9:27): At the time, Myral (?) was the head of the operation and took the lead in coordinating all the operations by mobilizing all PMI resources in affected areas, as well as mobilizing support from the PMI provinces and districts on the same island to provide relief: rescue team, earthquake team, medical team, and also providing basic resources and food items. And, of course, it is not easy for us, because in the service of disaster, we have limitations with national support. That’s why we communicated with all of PMI provinces in the whole country to support the affected area, because we had the big disaster in Lombok and the second one in Palu and also the third one in Sunda Strait. So that’s why we have to mobilize all resources. From Jakarta we mobilize our relief items, from our regional warehouses from Jakarta, Surabaya, Seram, and also Sulawesi and Kalimantan. This is a way that we can get support to the affected areas. What we have now that PMI applied that localization and centralization of the authority to give more roles and responsibilities from the affected areas to lead the operation. From the national side, we’ll provide the technical support and also the logistics and also funding. With our coordination with the IFRC and also ICRC, we supplemented our appeal, and now we have one appeal to cover our three operations: in Lombok—earthquake , in Sulawesi—the earthquake that was affected by the tsunami, and the last one in Sunda Strait for the tsunami.

TH: So, Sydney, after hearing that, I’m curious to know: how soon did you arrive? What was your role there? And what was some of the work that you took on in your initial first few weeks?

SM: I arrived on the island of Lombok in mid-August, just as this series of earthquakes had affected the local communities there and as aftershocks were ongoing. My role was really to act as an extension of Palang Merah Indonesia, which, as I said, means the Indonesian Red Cross. We also refer to it sometimes as PMI as well. There’s a long history of partnership between the American Red Cross and the Indonesian Red Cross, and so it was really a meaningful experience to take part in that legacy of partnership. I was there to work with the external relations team of the Indonesian Red Cross and really acted as an additional resource for them, an extension of their team and a surge support to the existing Indonesian Red Cross Team. I embedded within the local Indonesian Red Cross volunteer team to work across the island with external partners as members of the media inquired about how people were doing who were affected by these earthquakes and aftershocks, and how the Red Cross was helping. My job was to help tell that story. And, really, the story that I told, alongside my Indonesian Red Cross colleagues and volunteers was that the community was strong and resilient and hopeful, despite all going on around them with the various disasters.

TH: Yeah, and speaking more about this important partnership between the American Red Cross and the Indonesian Red Cross—Arifin, I wonder if you could say a few words about this partnership and how far it’s come over recent years.

AH (11:42-13:34): Yes, PMI as the operating national society and the American Red Cross as the participating national society have a very close relationship. Our relationship is based on the mutual understanding as the family of Red Cross/Red Crescent, one in spirit of partnership, mutual support, working together, trust, and respect to each other. American Red Cross as PNS is to support PMI in line with the priorities and objectives of PMI which we describe in PMI’s strategic development plan. With the spirit of the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement, PMI and our American Red Cross have agreed to work together in implementing programs and also services. We recognize our work and we also agree to have the best coordination and communication to ensure that our current program support can be implemented as self-sustainable and really provide a sustainable solution. I think the American Red Cross and also USAID are our very important strategic partners. PMI has been working together with the American Red Cross even before the tsunami of Aceh in 2004. PMI had often collaborated with the American Red Cross. The support of the American Red Cross is not only focused on the field of operations to handle the impact of disaster, but also touched on the capacity-building programs of PMI organizations as well as the community capacity-building program.

SM: Arifin, I love that you mentioned that you see our partnership as part of the wider Red Cross/Red Crescent family. That’s exactly what I would have mentioned and, as part of this global network, our two Red Cross Societies really do have a special bond, as Pak Arifin mentioned. And I would add that, it’s really incredible to think that the American Red Cross and the Indonesian Red Cross were collaborating and working together, even in Lombok, in advance of these earthquakes. In 2015 to 2017, we were doing preparedness and earthquake safety drills in local schools. The impact of that alone in saving lives later, once earthquakes began in Lombok, is just tremendous to think about. We’ve done some really innovative work as well in planting mangroves together in coastal areas, which will produce research that really can be used in other parts of the world as well to help protect coastal areas during disasters. And, I would add, that the American Red Cross learns so much from this partnership. I know the Indonesian Red Cross feels the same. Really, the fruits of our collaboration can be felt across the United States in all that we learn from how the Indonesian Red Cross engages volunteers and mobilizes at a very local level and builds capacity of local community members. It’s something that we learn from and then take back to our own programs domestically here in the U.S.

TH: It’s great that you mention disaster preparedness efforts. I wonder, Arifin, if you could speak a little bit to that. How does the community respond? What’s the participation like in terms of disaster simulations, teaching earthquake preparedness, providing first aid instruction? Perhaps you could say a few words about that.

AH (15:40-17:38): I think, as the largest voluntary-based, humanitarian organization in Indonesia, PMI has a crucial role to the government. In this regard, PMI’s role is supporting the community and government in humanitarian action. PMI has two strategies. The first one is how to improve the capacity-building of the PMI organization. The capacity-building of PMI volunteers, staff, and also members. And the second is how to involve capacity to the community to be capable to analyze their risks, to cope with their disaster if there is disaster, and also to minimize the risk of disaster, and to initiate any kind of effort that can reduce the risk of disaster and also climate change, the impact of climate change. In its implementation of natural disaster preparedness efforts in Indonesia, PMI divides into two situations. The first is a situation where there is no disaster. PMI will provide special assistance to the community to provide risk and analysis of disaster management planning and risk mapping, and also training, education, disaster risk reduction, and adaptation to climate change, promotion of the well-prepared family toward the disaster, and to make sure that all of the community members have the personal readiness to cope with the impact of disaster.

TH: I wonder if we could talk a little bit about on the ground realities during such relief efforts. Sydney, perhaps you could say a few words about the general atmosphere during these efforts. What would you envision as the biggest challenge while working in Indonesia?

SM: Sure. I would say that the atmosphere was made more challenging by the ongoing aftershocks and this series of disasters that continued during the course of the response operation. As local volunteers were mobilizing and beginning to distribute shelter materials and clean water, conducting trainings in schools so that children knew how to evacuate and move to safety in the event of aftershocks— those aftershocks didn’t stop. This work was ongoing amidst, frankly, terrifying tremors that continued. I would say that, around the island, you could feel a sense of concern over how long these aftershocks and earthquakes were going to continue. There was a lot of concern around families who had homes near the ocean, given the threat of tsunami. And so, families were moving to higher ground. Of course, the aftershocks were disruptive on business and school and day-to-day life. But, more than that, it was harmful to peace of mind and the emotional well-being of community members. That said, the Indonesian Red Cross volunteers really put an emphasis and a focus on psycho-social support, emotional care, and mental health support services. For me, it was truly profound to see that work being done because the context was so uncertain and frightening at times. I’ll never forget, we went to a town called Danyang in Northern Lombok, which was really the epicenter of the destruction. In the village of Danyang, not a single home survived the earthquakes. Not a single one. If you picture going up to wherever you live, whether that’s an apartment building or a cul-de-sac or a middle-sized town, trying to fathom the reality that no homes were left for your neighbors is pretty unfathomable and overwhelming. I met a family there, there was a father named Assar, and he talked about the impact of that. And yet, the impact that Palang Merah, the Indonesian Red Cross, was having in helping his family to just feel hope again… the shelter materials that they were distributing, the clean water that they were supplying, which otherwise wouldn’t have been accessible, the medical supplies and medical clinics that were stood up, were all incredibly impactful and so necessary. And yet, I think that what I saw the Indonesian Red Cross provide that was more valuable than anything was a renewed sense of hope and a little bit of peace of mind in this context that was so challenging at times.

TH: Arifin, I wonder if you could add to that and perhaps insert any vignettes or any anecdotal stories that might exemplify the people of Indonesia.

AH (22:06-25:40): First, before we proceed to that conversation, I would like to share the challenge that we always face at PMI and in every disaster operation. As I mentioned previously, the — were really hit with the logistics and transportation. Why? It is because of the complexity of Indonesian geographical areas. As the largest archipelagic country, Indonesia has a very wide area requiring adequate logistics and transportation resources. And, frankly speaking, those logistics and transportation costs for the disaster response operations, especially in the eastern part of Indonesia, are very high. So, in addition to transporting our relief items from our regional warehouses in Jakarta, Surabaya, Kalimantan, and then Sumatra also need the costs. Sometimes also we are really hit with the limitations of our transportation modality. The second challenge is dealing with the capacity-building of PMI and also resources. Yes, we realize that PMI has placed two million volunteers spread throughout Indonesia. And Lombok, for example, is not strong for —Sulawesi also not strong for—.We have to consider that they have the lead on the operation. That’s why the national—will provide the adequate capacity. Step-by-step we will provide the capacity-building job training and also the responsibility, the leadership, and everything to make sure they are quite strong enough to lead the next operation. I think that currently I would like to say that the situation now in Sulawesi and also Lombok, that currently we are still in the recovery period. The high expectation of the affected people to PMI is still very high now. This is because many humanitarian organizations have ended their mission. The need of the shelters is still very high. Initially, PMI was reported by the IFRC to need to build professional shelters, initially outside of the camp. However, because of the changing policy from the government, we will not continue our construction, but we will support the additional transitional housing and also permanent houses. There are still many IDPs currently still living in the camp, specifically in the cities of Palu, Dongala, and Sigi. It’s different in Lombok. In Lombok, they stay on their own land. They stay in their own areas. But because of the liquefaction and also tsunami in Palu, Dongala, and Sigi, the IDPs now still stay in the IDP camps. The government provides the barracks, so the IDPs will stay in barracks for a maximum of two years. Currently, the government has also started with the building of the permanent houses, especially for the IDPs who are still staying in the IDP camp.

SM: Arifin, I love something that you said about the local efforts of volunteers in Lombok and Sulawesi, and I would just add to that: I really was so impressed by the efforts of local volunteers. It’s incredible to think that many of the volunteers who I met, and there were hundreds of volunteers mobilized during the Lombok response—I believe it was around 700 volunteers who were active and supporting affected communities—they were members of the communities. And it was incredible that, during this really difficult time, they were coming to help their neighbors. Many of the local volunteers in Lombok had experienced damage or destruction of their own homes. Their industries where they had their source of income were disrupted during this time. And yet, they either raised their hands to start volunteering for the first time with the Indonesian Red Cross or they decided to put back on their uniform and, instead of first maybe working on their home or only focusing on their own situation, they decided to lend a hand. And that’s really the essence and the spirit of Indonesian Red Cross volunteers and, I think, the beauty of localized response. They knew exactly how to interact with community members and be a source of support for them because they’re part of the community. It’s their families as well who were impacted by this very disaster. And that said, there were also hundreds of volunteers who came from elsewhere in Indonesia to support. So, folks from the different surrounding islands came to Lombok and were really just eager to help their neighbors, so to speak. I just think that the locally-led response was such a beautiful part of what was ongoing in Lombok and, I think, a true reflection of the Indonesian people.

TH: In wrapping this up, Arifin, I wonder if you could add to that, perhaps speaking about the resiliency of the Indonesian people.

AH (28:00-30:50): So, like or dislike, the Indonesian people should be ready because there are so many disasters in our country. Our areas are very complex, — are part of Indonesia. So, as Sydney mentioned, we apply the localization and also de-centralization. So, with the support from the American Red Cross after our earthquake and tsunami operation, we had the program that supported the American Red Cross and USAID at the time to initiate what we called the Committee-Based Disaster Reduction in Aceh, after the tsunami operation. Since the operation of the Aceh earthquake and tsunami disaster, the American Red Cross established the representative office in Jakarta. And now it’s still active until now to support a kind of resilient community development. And PMI, after the tsunami, we really opened our knowledge and became open to how to build more resilient community on the ground. Because it’s very difficult, for example, now we currently still have our operation in Papua, a very remote area and also the other areas like in Wamena and also Lanny Jaya. There are also our concerns about how to make the community more resilient, so that it flourishes. But for now, learn from the service of disaster that happened in our country that we really need to provide more capacity-building to initiate disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation programs at the community level. As Sydney mentioned, for example, the American Red Cross supported the PMI to building more than one million mangroves in Aceh, in Java Island, and in Lombok Island. And now the community still sustains their efforts to initiate more sustainable solutions. They can collaborate with the activities. They can also still continue their well-prepared family for the disaster and also how to provide this community they have prepared by themselves, how to deal with the impact of disaster. I think that resilience is the key for PMI after we learn the service of disaster in our country.

SM: On the note of resiliency, I just had someone come to mind who I met when I was in Lombok during the response effort, and her name was Fasua. She was a local entrepreneur and I think really embodied the essence of resiliency across the island and across the country of Indonesia. Fasua’s storefront had been first damaged during the early earthquakes and then later completely destroyed as the earthquakes and aftershocks continued. She was a female entrepreneur and had a small shop where she would sell different cakes and sweets, and she was really staple in her community with a bustling business. And so, when her storefront was destroyed, I can only imagine how devastating that must have been for her spirit and her outlook and, of course, on her family’s source of income and their very livelihood, which was supported by this store that no longer existed. And when I met Fasua, she had decided that she was going to start back up her business, even amidst these continued aftershocks. She found a table and decided to cook outside of her temporary shelter because her home had been affected during the earthquakes. And she decided to start that business back up. When I met her, you could just feel this strength and determination inside of her to provide for her family no matter what. I felt that resilience with so many other community members who faced similarly heartbreaking situations. And yet, every morning they decided to continue rebuilding, to continue moving forward, and doing what they could to pave the way forward. I just mention that as a reflection of a resiliency that I experienced firsthand with community members in Lombok.

TH: Thank you for sharing that example. In closing, I hope that this has been a great opportunity for our listeners to gain a deeper appreciation of the great work led by both the American Red Cross and the Indonesian Red Cross. It is a testament to the important relationship between the United States and Indonesia. And while these tragic natural disasters do occur, it is comforting to know that these two organizations are working diligently to help preserve the great nation of Indonesia. So thank you very much, thank you both speakers for joining us today. And we invite anyone and everyone to do what they can in volunteering for the Red Cross.