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UN Volunteers and NGO team up to run help centre in Indonesia

21 December 2005

Banda Aceh, Indonesia: It was the children who were most affected by the tsunami, according to Dr. Yunita, a physician from Jakarta who served as a UN Volunteer for two months in Banda Aceh, working at the Bina Mandiri Crisis Centre, a volunteer-run trauma counselling and medical clinic set up in a district of the city that was nearly levelled by the tidal wave's massive force.

“We spent much of our time caring for the little children, giving them vitamins and trying to increase their weight. Many parents were so happy to have doctors there and to get medicine for their sons and daughters,” she added.

The crisis centre was the result of a partnership between UN Volunteers and Yayasan Bina Mandiri (YBM), a Jakarta-based NGO. With financial support from UNV headquarters in Germany and volunteers from the NGO, the centre opened in mid-January in two separate neighbouring clinics, one for men and the other for women.

“Arriving in Banda Aceh was like seeing a war movie,” says Vera Yip, a spokesperson for the NGO. “The tsunami's impact was so bad; it was very upsetting. While we were preparing the houses for the crisis centre, we would often come across bodies of those who died.”

Once the makeshift clinics were cleaned and equipped with basic supplies, three Indonesian UN Volunteers, recruited specifically to set up the clinic, worked with YBM volunteers to provide an array of assistance that ranged from administering medicine and nutritional supplements to counselling and educating children.

As word spread that the centre was providing free care, Vera says, more and more people turned up at the site looking for help. “We started recruiting the villagers, those affected, to help run the centre. They fed children, kept people in orderly lines and even helped track who was coming and going,” she says.

Ultimately, Vera says, the support provided by UN Volunteers enabled NGO volunteers to focus on delivering aid and not on the administration of the centre or seeking additional support. “With our volunteers and funds and technical support from UNV, we were able to set up a platform to reach the community and many victims who were not receiving any kind of help,” she says. “As we did not have experience in responding to this kind of a disaster before, the UN Volunteers gave us so much help—they worked day and night to keep everything running.”

Beyond healthcare, much emphasis was placed on keeping children in shape, both physically and mentally. UN Volunteer Intan Jingga, who helped YBM manage the clinic, says volunteers were organized to play games, read and teach basic lessons to the children, many of whom were orphaned by the tsunami. “We took a very holistic approach to the centre, realizing that children would be probably hardest hit,” she says. “That meant not only giving them food, but also keeping their minds off what was going on around them.”

During the initial two-month start-up phase of the clinic, Intan estimates, more than 600 people were counselled, 4,500 received medical care, and 4,000 children were given nutritional supplements.

YBM has now extended the mobile centre to Nias, a small island west of Sumatra that was also hit by a second disaster, an earthquake of March 2005. Here, YBM established five free kindergartens headed by a team of dedicated volunteers and a group of local people. The volunteers also distributed bio-sand water filters to provide clean and safe drinking water to 1,000 households and recently started a well drilling project to ensure a reliable source of water. Back in Banda Aceh, the crisis centre has moved into a permanent building and volunteers are now constructing public washroom facilities in three districts.

Jin Ha Park, the UNV Programme Officer in Indonesia at the time of the tsunami disaster, says the collaboration between UNV and YBM demonstrates the power of partnerships. She says, “YBM didn’t have the funds and technical support to carry out a relief effort, while at UNV, we didn’t have the extensive network of local volunteers to provide the necessary physical support. Together, we complemented each other to provide help to the tsunami victims, many of whom were not receiving aid from the big donors and international organizations.”

Vera at YBM says the clinic initiative continues to be a success as the organization and its volunteers have fully taken over the operation, relying on donors, such as several Singapore NGOs and the French Embassy, only to provide the funds needed to keep its activities running. “Before the tsunami, we were only working with volunteers in the slum communities of Jakarta,” she says.

“UNV gave us the support to get involved outside of our normal operations and respond to a crisis that was hurting everyone, the entire nation,” Vera adds. “We were able to mobilize volunteers like never before. And now, we are helping people get training and start working again—volunteers are doing all of this, which is amazing!”

UNV is administered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)