Notebook: Tsunami – One Year After

Day Two
Chot Paya, Indonesia

In the midst of a field of debris — yes, a year later there is debris - sit the prettiest little new pink and white houses. Welcome to Chot Paya. Before the tsunami, there were several tiny fishing villages along the water. When the waves came, they were among the first obliterated. This was the moment for the quick and the dead, for only those who outran the wave survived.

As rebuilding began, the area had the good fortune to catch the attention of IOM, the International Organization of Migration. You've probably never heard of it, but your donations to the American Red Cross or UNICEF support IOM's work. And helps build those pink and white houses. IOM started with a basic premise: let's rebuild not just the structures, but the community that had been there for generations.

Easy, you say. Just pop up new houses and you're all set. Here are some problems they faced, and welcome to the real world of disaster relief: who owns the land for the new village and can we get permission to build on it (if the owner even survived the tsunami); who can manufacture the bolt-together concrete beams needed to make the houses; who will decide who gets the houses; where will workers come from to construct the houses; what about water, sewer, electricity; and most of all — who will make sure the money Americans and others donated is not wasted on shoddy construction or buildings that will fall down in a year or two, after the photo-ops are over.

It turned out no one could properly build the concrete beams that make the basic super-structure, but they found one contractor willing to learn about quality control and after training he was able to meet their standards.

A new industry was founded. Men who eked out a living fishing now had a chance to work with the contractor making beams or get work on the job site putting up the houses. In the end, IOM hired and helped train 22 local contractors who now provide 7-thousand new construction jobs.

Think of that, in a devastated area: seven thousand men and women with a paycheck, with pride, with new construction skills. And, trust me, the house building business is going to be good here for a very long time.

Now to the houses. The IOM people built them, but they let the community and their leaders decide who moves in and when.

But IOM wanted more. They built a school in the midst of these pink houses so the children can walk to classes. And they built a medical clinic in the middle of Chot Paya that another American charity, Americares, helped stock with medicines.

A lot of people in this area don't trust western medicine. So Harvard University sent people to help teach that this kind of medicine really works, maybe even better than the local "tabib," or village healer.

But there's more. With all the new construction, there is a huge need for bricks. So on the edge of Chot Paya, there is a building close to finished. It will be the new brick factory. Again, think of it not as bricks but of all the new jobs that will come with it.

When we visited Chot Paya six months after the tsunami, it was all beams and workers crawling over rafters. Now, one year after the tsunami, it's a couple of dozen houses where families have done things like plant flowers to dress up the front of their new homes.

It's here that we met Graeme Rapley, who gave up a construction job in Indonesia to head up the local IOM efforts. We nicknamed this gregarious New Zealander the "Mayor of Chot Paya." He was there from when they laid the first building blocks. Now, there are more houses going up all around, as Chot Paya grows.

That means families who are today living in tents will soon be able to move into a four room cottage. Clean, safe, with water and sewer and electricity.

Graeme works on a simple philosophy. He and the people who works with did not come in to just rebuild. They wan