December 26th 2004 not only moved the earth in the most shattering manner, it also moved the hearts of many, world over.
And in the midst of chaos and emotions in Banda Acheh, there was one volunteer tour de force that the global media should not have politely neglected – the Indonesian university students.
Answering the call of their motherland, students from all over Indonesia immediately found their way to Acheh in aid of their countrymen. Tirelessly, they formed stations throughout the state to ensure the provision of supplies and support. An exemplary model was one particular outpost that the locals affectionately nicknamed, "Sudirman 80 Volunteer Group" (after the street they stayed at).
Armed with passion and dedication, this young team soon became one of the central stations for body evacuations. Coordinating over 30 posts, `Sudirman 80' ensured government agencies and locals worked shoulder-to-shoulder in carrying out the primary role of evacuating and excavating dead bodies. This was a crucial element in assuring that home rebuilding, sanitation as well as psychological healing may begin appropriately.
A young professional, team facilitator Cakra Achmad and, the father figure of the team, evacuation leader Sir Winarso Puspojudu (fondly known as Pa' De) led the `Sudirman 80' team members through strenuous days and nights of relentless work.
This dynamic duo not only took charge of the daunting responsibility of the students' safety, they also looked after the students' emotional and spiritual well-being.
Every day, before the start of each venture and at the end of it, a prayer (irregardless of faith) is held in thanksgiving and forgiveness. Thanksgiving, in recognition and appreciation of their own safety… Forgiveness, in remembrance and respect of those who have passed.
As working in 10-day shifts is mandatory (in light of possible trauma to the volunteers themselves), many of these students longingly look forward for another return to Acheh. To them, every day is a new experience and every discovery is a journey.
In the words of one student volunteer, Ririn Shodikin, "Never before have I experienced such strong kinship with people that I've never met. This experience was beyond anyone's expectations and it has given me hope in light of such disaster."
A young newly wed, Desi and Yudi, who had chosen Acheh as their honeymoon destination, further echoed these sentiments. The couple, both undergraduates in medicine, proclaimed that they could not imagine being anywhere else but working side by side in service of their people.
Until today, the emotional roller coaster that is demanded of these students is unimaginable. Reggi, Ozie, Adi and many others can easily recall a myriad of heart wrenching moments during their duties.
There was the discovery of a body of an old woman clutching the Qur'an, bodies of six young female students in their dorm room hugging one another out of terror and even, a small headless baby by her mother's side.
One can easily get deterred into anguish and forsakenness but it is the humility of these experiences that kept the will of the students, for they spurred a spirited vision of releasing Acheh and all of Indonesia from this pain.
According to a student nurse volunteer, Renny Ovita, "It didn't matter to me if all I could do here was menial tasks, it was important that I be here. Help is needed in various forms and I know whatever that may be… is important to the people here."
Pa' De succumb to tears whenever he thinks of these students for he never thought that the younger generation of the world today could muster such strength, "I thought MTV may have spoilt them for life but it is amazing to see these young individuals fighting for those who have suffered, in spite of the hardship here. I know I am the one they look up to but it is them that inspires me."
Countless soulless bodies have been uncovered over the months, and more are to be found. The sheer courage of these future leaders of Indonesia motivated not only their caretakers but also two Polish documentary producers who followed them out in the field diligently, despite the heat and pouring rain, throughout their stay in Acheh.
One of the two producers, Marcin Buczkowski, was also struck by emotions, "It is very tough out there, through the weather and piles of ruins but they do it, and keep doing it. There are other evacuation teams but none with this much of maturity, respect and care for the dead. To go through this at such tender age, I don't know how they can perform objectively and resourcefully, efficiently in fact, day after day and still be able to provide such sweet hospitality to us."
It was the comraderieship amongst these young volunteers that made the gruesome days fade away into cheerful nights, albeit the earth tremors. Oke, an international relations undergraduate, would always remember how the aches of his body would slowly dissipate with the group's late night jokes, resulting in strings of laughter that soon became his lullaby. "It's hard enough that we see these horrible images during the day, we try not to have them in our dreams as well."
Though news of Tsunami and its victims are no longer main highlights in the papers, the "Sudirman 80 Volunteer Group" is still going strong. Working closely with certain Malaysian agencies in the distribution of goods and medical services, it has not only trudged to some of the most remote and `untouched by aid' areas, it has also provided for more than 20 displaced persons' camps throughout Acheh."
Indonesia Menangis" (Crying Indonesia) was an apt local media capture of this nation… It is only fitting to remember that the heroes of this nation's tragedy are her people themselves.
Prepared by:Ellynita Lamin