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Indonesia

Indonesia children’s foundation, battered by summer earthquakes, seeks help to rebuild

None of the 90 children cared for by the foundation was badly hurt by the quakes on Lombok, but they are sleeping outside, suffering mental trauma and at risk of disease

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 October, 2018, 8:46am
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 October, 2018, 8:46am

Businessman and philanthropist Chaim Fetter crouched fearfully by a doorway inside his office when the first of a series of powerful earthquakes struck the coastline of the popular tourist island of Lombok in Indonesia.

As the subsequent tremors started to slow in frequency following the magnitude-7 quake, early on the evening of August 5, Fetter, 37, bolted for the nearest exit. His mind raced as he darted off to the mosque where 90 children being cared for by the Peduli Anak Foundation he co-founded had gathered for evening prayers.

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When he arrived at the mosque, Fetter was relieved to find that there had been no serious injuries or fatalities among the children. At that moment, all he could do was try to keep the panicked group calm, while they waited anxiously for a tsunami warning to end. Fortunately for them, it did.

Two subsequent major aftershocks – on August 9 and 18 – were of a magnitude greater than 6. The Indonesian Agency for Meteorology, Climatology, and Geophysics says more than 1,500 aftershocks have been recorded at magnitudes stronger than 2.

Two months and more than 2,000 aftershocks later, the children of Peduli Anak are still sleeping outside in what look like army tents, with no showers, no proper toilets and receiving no meaningful help from the government. The children’s collective mental trauma is a serious concern, Fetter says. That is in addition to cases of malaria, severe diarrhoea, and skin diseases that have spreading within the group.

The only structure still standing at Peduli Anak’s complex is the education centre, which may or may not be safe to enter. All the residential structures have been levelled.

He estimates Peduli Anak will need US$500,000 to get back on its feet, with new, earthquake-proof structures. Even then, Fetter anticipates that it will be 12 months before the children have permanent homes again.

Reports from Indonesia’s National Agency for Disaster Management indicate that the quake and its aftershocks (which continued for weeks) have claimed hundreds of lives.

A public relations official from the agency, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, said on Twitter in late August that the death toll had reached 555.

When the first big earthquake hit the island, the children were all doing their evening prayers. The mosque is a semi open-air building so it was easy for them to get out to a safer place
Chaim Fetter, Peduli Anak Foundation co-founder

That number has almost certainly risen since. According to the agency, more than 430,000 people have been displaced from their homes and nearly 75,000 housing units have been either damaged or destroyed. The agency estimates that total cost of damage in the region will exceed US$500 million.

The archipelagic nation is susceptible to recurring earthquakes and volcanic eruptions because it is situated on the “Ring of Fire” – a seismically active area encircling the Pacific Ocean.

Almost two months after the Lombok quakes, another big earthquake struck the island of Sulawesi, followed by a tsunami, leaving at least 1,550 people dead in and around Palu in the province of Central Sulawesi. The death toll is expected to rise.

The government’s ability to handle the double emergency is questionable. Even before the devastation wrought on Palu, critics were saying it had not done enough to ease the worsening situation on Lombok.

In the days following the August 5 quake, officials set up evacuation camps, public kitchens and other facilities along main roads on the island, hoping that everyone affected by the earthquake would be able to seek refuge.

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Many villagers in remote areas, however, decided to stay close to their collapsed homes out of necessity, despite having to sleep and bathe outdoors. Living in their gardens, most lack the essentials such as rice and clean water.

Fetter says some local NGOs, corporations and individuals have helped to save lives by arranging deliveries to the island’s remote areas.

Before settling on Lombok, Fetter was a successful venture capitalist, with his business spanning Southeast Asia and the Netherlands, his home country. He co-founded the non-profit Peduli Anak Foundation 12 years ago on the island, to help underprivileged and at-risk children by providing them with safe housing, education, a loving, family-like environment, medical treatment and legal support until they come of age.

“I established Peduli Anak together with my friends and wife in 2006,” says Fetter. “Despite having a good business back home, something was missing in my life. I was looking for a real purpose and real meaning. I found true happiness among the children I have been able to help by offering them a chance at a brighter future.”

Since establishing the foundation, Fetter has worked for the organisation full time as an unpaid volunteer. He says his business interests are still “active in the background”. The foundation (officially named Yayasan Peduli Anak) owns the 1.5-hectare plot on which its buildings and facilities are located.

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The children cared for by the foundation are aged between 19 months and 18 years old. Most of them come from broken homes or dysfunctional families. Fetter hopes that their upbringing at the foundation will help to cultivate a thriving future society on Lombok for generations to come.

“When the first big earthquake hit the island, the children were all doing their evening prayers,” he recalls of that terrifying night. “The mosque is a semi open-air building so it was easy for them to get out to a safer place. The adults with them at the time were counsellors, a volunteer with her four children, and myself.”

As the aftershocks continued to rattle Peduli Anak in the weeks after the first large quake, staff and volunteers got to work drawing up earthquake drills. They created safe zones and marked areas that would be safe to gather in the event of yet another violent quake. A makeshift emergency kitchen was set up outside, and everyone was instructed to avoid local buildings that were more than one storey high in the neighbouring area.

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“The initial days after the first earthquake were the hardest. There were so many aftershocks and the children’s houses were badly damaged. We pulled out the mattresses that we could from the buildings and slept on the basketball field in the open air,” says Fetter.

“We found out that our drinking water and food supply were diminishing. Shops and markets were closed, so we desperately needed help. We posted video messages and appeals via our social media. The first donations that arrived were from our friends and network.”

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has said the government would issue payments of between 10 million and 50 million rupiah (US$800 to US$4,600) to Lombok residents whose houses had been damaged or destroyed. However, there have been reports that only about 1 per cent of those eligible for the relief money have so far been paid. To make matters worse, the amounts pledged are not likely be enough to rebuild a decent home.

The people of Lombok are not holding out much hope for the government to save the day. Instead, most people’s faith is being placed in private companies, organisations and individuals.

Fetter, who wakes at 5am every day and works round the clock to raise the funds needed to rebuild the children’s living quarters, says donations so far have come from all over Indonesia and overseas.

Fetter says the most direct and effective way for donors to send funds or otherwise become involved in rebuilding Lombok and Peduli Anak is through the foundation’s website. The site has a link to a GoFundMe page and explains how else money can be sent directly to Peduli Anak.

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He says the website might be a more viable alternative to shipping goods directly to the island.

“For some reason, everything gets stuck in airports and warehouses before it can finally be delivered to victims of earthquakes after weeks of delay,” Fetter says, with a hint of frustration.

Petty corruption is rife in Indonesia. Officials at ports have been known to ask for “facilitation payments” to expedite the movement of goods.

Fetter does not mention the issue, however, and says it’s more likely that delays in this case result from the inefficient nature of local shipping companies and their systems, which are currently overwhelmed.

Although the story of the 2018 earthquakes has not yet ended for the people of Lombok, reconstruction efforts are under way.

“We have several multinational companies who have committed to helping us, but a lot more is still needed. We also need skilled volunteers in building, health, education, psychology and social work,” Fetter says.