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Being far from 'home' when the Tsunami hit Sulawesi

September 28th 2018, I am sitting in the library at my university in The Hague, working on my thesis. While reading some journals, my attention moves to my phone. To keep updated about what is happening with my friends and family in Indonesia, I open my Instagram app, as millennials nowadays always do. This time an unusual update from my friends gets my attention with a screenshot from the website of the Indonesian Agency for Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics. An earthquake happened nearby Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, a big one.


The news definitely makes me afraid if there would be victims and while being far from home I am tuned in and looking for further information and news. But unfortunately, no update yet. This gives me a mixed feeling, would there be victims? I try to stay calm and I continue writing my thesis.


An hour later, a message pops up on my Whatsapp group of Indonesian students at my university, International Institute of Social Studies. One of my friends sends me a video, the thumbnail shows an image of the Indonesian coast. When I play the video, I see terrifying images of the Tsunami. With the culture of fake news nowadays, I am hoping this is one of them. But soon after BBC news with the headline Hundreds dead in Palu quake and tsunami makes me realize a terrible disaster happened. I go back to my Whatsapp group and ask my friends from university how their friends and family in Palu and Donggala are doing. Some of them are worried and try to contact their relatives who live in this area.


For me personally, I grew up at Sumatera Island, in the city Lampung, where most of my family lives. This city is 2.500 km away from where the earthquake happened. However, as an Indonesian who is currently living in the Netherlands, I personally feel that our shared identity, being Indonesian as well, is one of the biggest sources of solidarity in the context of what happened in Sulawesi. Next to that I am working as an Intern at Oxfam Novib and focus on the project of Empower Youth for Work (EYW). One of the areas where we are implementing is at Sulawesi. Although the project area is located in the southern part of the Sulawesi, where the tsunami was not affecting the area, our colleagues are involved in the humanitarian work and in the EYW project we focus on climate change awareness and adaptation. Related to climate change, EYW held the campaign in collaboration with other Oxfam projects, named “Our Coast, Our Dignity”. This campaign reached 400 youth to increase their understanding of the impact of climate change in rural coastal areas and inspiring them to act to tackle it. The natural disaster that happened in Sulawesi brings more urgency to our project and set the agenda even higher for the future.


Today, I am sitting at my desk in Oxfam Novib, still trying to get updated about the disaster. It has been already two weeks since the earthquake and tsunami hit Palu and Donggala in Central Sulawesi, Indonesia. At least 1944 people were killed based on the statistics from the National Disaster Management Agency and this number is likely to be higher since the evacuation process is still ongoing. Besides, approximately 60.000 houses and buildings have collapsed, and 70.000 people have been displaced with 5.000 people still missing until now. Those statistics and conditions caused that victims devastatingly need help in numerous forms, varying from food, water and clothes to places to stay.

Until today, I witness how the international community, let alone Oxfam, tirelessly supports Indonesia in various ways. Besides, Indonesian communities here in the Netherlands as well try to help the victims in Sulawesi by fundraising. At my university, we started an action #FoodForSolidarity, where we sell some food items and snacks to our friends so that they can donate.  I am being grateful to see how impactful the solidarity is. I remember one sentence from my lecture book about solidarity, stated by Mayhew in 1997, in which he said that: “such a degree of identity-sharing has been achieved that serving the collective interest as a coordinated action by group members becomes possible”. It means that our collective actions now are inseparable from our shared identity.


In general, the emergency responses provided by Oxfam have already provided numerous types of assistance to the victims, especially when it comes to WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene). Oxfam has brought in water treatment equipment that can produce 20 litres of clean water per minute from a borehole – enough for around 500 people per day. More equipment is due to arrive in the coming days which will increase capacity by six times. Oxfam has also started distributing 1,000 hygiene kits consisting of a safe container for transporting water, soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste and sanitary towels. In a form of direct contribution, for instances donations, Oxfam Novib together with a number of NGOs works with Giro 555 in collecting the donations, which already reached the amount of EUR 11,255, 853.


Sulawesi’s beauty stands strong, amidst the chaos. I believe Indonesia will rise to face this hard situation.  As a humanitarian organization, Oxfam is trying its best in dealing with the post-disaster situation in Sulawesi. As a youth, I personally become more aware of the climate change issue and post-disaster management, because it can happen anywhere at any time.


My name is Muhammad Rey Dwi Pangestu (Rey) and I am 23 years old. I am currently studying Social Policy for Development, with the specialization of Children and Youth Studies at International Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus Universities Rotterdam. At Oxfam Novib, I am working as an intern in the Influencing and Communication team for ''Empower Youth for Work'' project.