Through the eyes of the survivors, Aceh today

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The Jakarta Post, Jakarta – Wed., 10/03/2007 – Life

Daniel Rose, Contributor, Jakarta

Nur, a young woman in a white shirt and green veil is quietly assembling a key chain from threads and other materials. Mouth open, her eyes focus on the movements of her own fingers. Behind her are children of all ages, sitting around on a red carpet, some just as deeply engrossed in making key chains as Nur.

The above scene can be seen in one of the photographs put on display in an exhibition called After the Tsunami: The Survivors’ Views, in the gallery of the French Cultural Center, Salemba, Central Jakarta.

Three weeks ago, the same exhibition was held for the first time in Banda Aceh, one of the four areas where the photos were taken. From the quality of the photographs, we can tell that they were not taken by professionals. “We gave the people of Banda Aceh, Sigli, Weh Island and Durueng creative liberty. We let them use the camera to capture faces, things and moments that have meaning to them. Anything that can show us how things are going over two years after the tsunami,” said project coordinator Maria Heredero Jimnez.

The tsunami that hit Aceh in December 2004 killed nearly 238,000 people and left more than 500,000 people homeless. Through the eyes of 27 people, aged between 10 and 62, we are invited to see how Aceh—the people and the infrastructure—is recovering.

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In a number of photographs, we see children posing with wide smiles, some of them wearing school uniforms. Others show men and women working—fishing, sun-drying anchovies, bee-keeping, harvesting crops, selling doughnuts, silk-screening T-shirts, sewing, or constructing buildings. We still find, however, destroyed buildings that have not been repaired and people living in barracks or shelters with limited facilities.

Observing each of the photos, we can see that they show one thing in common: people who no longer live in fear, or at least have managed to get a heavy load lifted off their shoulders, allowing them to embrace the future with a trace of optimism. From the caption for a photo showing an old man standing next to a red car, we are informed that the tsunami had gotten the best of him. The man was once deeply depressed, but treatment after treatment has enabled him to get back to work. The kind smile on the man’s face unmistakably encapsulates this optimism.

One of the international aid organizations involved in redeveloping regions in Aceh struck by the tsunami is the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation (AECI). Focusing on tourism and fisheries, the agency also provides psychosocial and medical aides, support for small businesses, as well as cooperation in educational, governmental and cultural activities. When Vues D’un Monde (VDM), a youth global cultural association, proposed the photography project in Aceh, AECI immediately expressed interest and agreed to allocate funding.

After establishing a partnership with other organizations present in the province, the VDM selected the 27 participants and gave them some technical training in photography. Five weeks later, having received their pieces, the VDM was pleased to say that their main objective had been achieved, namely gaining knowledge of the environment in the four places in which the project took place by focusing on the tsunami survivors and the organizations that have been helping them to rebuild their lives.

“It was a five-week period to be remembered. We made a lot of friends. We stayed in their houses, ate meals with them, played with the kids. It was a wonderful experience,” Jimnez said.

The exhibition is open Monday to Saturday from Sept. 29 to Oct. 20. The photos are expected to be displayed in Madrid in December this year.

After the Tsunami: The Survivors’ Views
Sept. 29-Oct.20
French Cultural Center
Jl. Salemba Raya No.25
Open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday to Saturday
Phone: (021) 390 7716


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