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Post-tsunami efforts still rebuilding lives

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Southern Baptists who gave generously in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami will be glad to know they have helped many people not only rebuild their communities but also find meaningful lives, a development worker in the region reports.

More than 230,000 people died when a tsunami struck southern Asia in December 2004. Southern Baptists responded rapidly, sending volunteer teams and donating more than $17 million to help the survivors.

As a direct result, survivors have found comfort, homes have been rebuilt, new businesses have been launched and people have been trained in the skills that will help them improve their families’ lives for generations.

David Jones*, a community developer who works as a field partner with Baptist Global Response, says the quick response identified Southern Baptists as people who care and opened the door for all the subsequent progress.

“We built more than 120 homes in two villages and rebuilt about that many businesses, which were the backbone of the economy in the county where we focused much of our work,” Jones said. “It also allowed national Christians and volunteers from the United States to come in and help with body removal and clean-up.”

Prior to the disaster relief effort, people in the area had no relationships with Christians, and interaction with national Christians and volunteers from the United States have helped many people find hope and peace, Jones said.

“We are seeing some really strong foundations being built and a great many lives have been changed,” he said. “We have had thousands of volunteers come from all over the country and different parts of the world. Towns have been adopted and long-term relationships developed that continue to make a difference. Volunteers continue to come.”

The community development team now is working in 13 villages in that county, Jones said. An extension center opened by the team gives local people an opportunity to meet international volunteers who can train them in a wide range of techniques that will greatly improve their quality of life.

“The communities are more than 100 years behind in terms of technology. That prevents a lot of advances economically, Jones said. “Without much cost, we can bring in people who have backgrounds in different areas and a lot of technology that will help in many different areas. People from the community can come together and dream about what the future could be for them.”

The extension center gives community leaders opportunities for hands-on training in many skills, including forestry, animal husbandry, fisheries, agriculture and nutrition, as well as construction and business development.

“There is a crop production side to what we do. Rice is a staple part of the diet, so we are helping with advances in rice production,” Jones added. “We also are experimenting with crops from different parts of the world to see what else will grow in that particular climate and context.” A nutrition initiative named FAITH (Food Always In The Home), meanwhile, involves gardens that help provide households with various types of food.

The extension center has introduced new technologies to improve the cottage industries that formed the backbone of the economy before the tsunami, he said.

“As a result of a co-op established following the tsunami, more than 3,000 people have been able to go back to work,” he said. “That was a real shot in the arm for the economy. It helped people get back to work and to move into their new homes and provide for their families.”

The extension center also is demonstrating the effectiveness of a new industry -– Interlocking Concrete Earth Blocks, Jones said.

“The bricks traditionally used in construction require a lot of wood to be burned in kilns, and the forest is disappearing pretty quickly,” he said. “We hope that once the community sees the benefit of the new brick technology, it will create a whole new industry for the area.

“We established a production site that has been going for almost a year now. We have worked with the soils there to identify what soils work best to make the blocks,” he said. “Several different facilities have been built with the new blocks, and we are training people on how to use the blocks in construction.

“Memorials to those who lost their lives in the tsunami have been built out of the blocks, and they are being used for fencing around many new homes,” Jones added. “It’s starting to take hold and hopefully will provide even more livelihoods for the communities.”

The value of disaster relief, reconstruction and community development can be seen in one “man of peace” relationship that emerged in the weeks following the tsunami, Jones recounted.

“We met my friend about a week after the tsunami, when we were distributing food in a local house of worship,” he said. “He asked us to come help his village, which had pretty much been wiped out. There wasn’t a home left standing in a community of 3,000 people.

“My friend was out of the country on business when the wave hit, and when he was able to get back, he couldn’t find any of his close relatives. They were gone.”

The relief team helped locate and bury bodies and also provided tents and fresh water for the survivors. Then attention turned to helping plan reconstruction of the village.

“As we worked alongside my friend, he developed a real heart and vision for his people,” Jones said. “He began sharing the principles we follow about how we are to love one another. He has become instrumental in the development work. He provided the land on which we built the extension center.”

That relationship is the key that has allowed the community development team to work in the communities, Jones said. It also has created opportunities for many conversations about both improving the quality of life and finding hope and peace in difficult circumstances.

“We ask for prayers for my friend and his young bride,” Jones said. “They are expecting their first child. We also ask for prayers for the people in these communities. It’s a miracle that, even after the disaster relief phase was over, we could still see relationships continue with believers and the people.”
Mark Kelly is a freelance writer based in Gallatin, Tenn. *Name changed for security reasons.

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