Mercy arm helps overlooked survivors

By Kim Plummer Krull
While the deadly cyclone in Myanmar and the earthquake in China dominate world news, the Synod’s mercy arm launched a $452,000 effort to give long-term education and economic help to survivors in three communities that have been largely overlooked since another Asian disaster.
grant.gifLCMS World Relief and Human Care (LCMS WR-HC) has begun preparations to open an education center, kindergarten/nursery school, and a community credit union in an impoverished area of Aceh, Indonesia, that was among the hardest hit by the tsunami in December 2004.
The programs, which are expected to begin this summer, are examples of LCMS WR-HC’s commitment to “be there for the long term, even after most other relief organizations have long since left Aceh,” said Darin Storkson, regional director in Asia for WR-HC.
“Thousands of organizations poured billions of dollars into emergency help immediately after the tsunami,” said Storkson, who is based in Jakarta, Indonesia. By waiting to channel some of the generous support made through WR-HC, “we are able to leverage our donors’ dollars for maximum impact in a way that will build long-term relationships with these communities and have a lasting impact for years to come.”
About 8,500 people live in the Aceh communities of Lampulo, Lamdingin, and Lambaro Skep, located on the northern tip of the island of Sumatra. Most are tsunami survivors who lost loved ones, homes, and livelihoods in the disaster that claimed more than 170,000 lives, primarily in Aceh.
LCMS WR-HC targeted this area because it has received little or no assistance from other charitable organizations. Another factor was the cooperation of a local Lutheran partner, the Protestant Christian Batak Church.
“By focusing on a community where we have a partner, we can reach out in a Lutheran way, with Lutheran partners, and have a real, longer lasting impact,” Storkson said, referring to the four million-member church body whose leaders are involved in confessional Lutheran renewal in Indonesia.
Rev. Nelson Siregar, executive director of that church’s Department of Diakonia, worked closely with Storkson to plan the education and economic programs for survivors who “basically are starting over,” Storkson said.
There is no free education in Indonesia, Storkson said. “To the tsunami survivors, this project means they have a chance to rebuild their livelihoods, and, as a result, to provide for their children’s education,” he said.
The new education center and nursery school/kindergarten will be the first academic facilities to serve the communities’ children. The education center will offer English, computer, and math classes, which are expected to start in June. The nursery school/kindergarten program is scheduled to open in July and serve 80 youngsters.
Plans also are under way to organize a micro-financing program to help survivors start small businesses. The system will function much like a community credit union, Storkson said.
Entrepreneur training sessions will begin in August for the new businessmen and -women. Many are expected to run home-based enterprises and small businesses such as motorcycle repair and service centers, car washes, and coffee shops. 
The LCMS WR-HC education and economic programs will give tsunami survivors skills to help them help themselves, Storkson said.  “Most relief focuses only on short-term aid and neglects long-term welfare — the proverbial providing of fish as opposed to the teaching of fishing,” he said. “This project teaches fishing and also provides the poles and bait.”
As families in the Aceh communities prepare to send their children to school and start their businesses, survivors suffering from the Myanmar and China disasters desperately need emergency aid. But LCMS WR-HC cannot use donations originally given for one disaster, such as the tsunami, to help victims of a more recent tragedy, Storkson explained.
“We are able to help people in Indonesia rebuild their lives only because of the generosity of our WR-HC supporters,” Storkson said. “To help those suffering in Myanmar and China, we again count on our donors to show how much they care about people in need.”

Posted June 5, 2008

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