Wednesday, August 19, 2009

UMCOR Bireuen, Indonesia: A Community in Mission

Nearly five years after the tsunami and earthquake in the Aceh region of Indonesia, the outpouring of the world’s generosity is visibly evident. New homes, school hygiene projects, irrigation systems, fishing boats and sustainable income generating programs supported by relief agencies like UMCOR Indonesia are integrated into communities that were destroyed in the 2005 disaster.

The UMCOR staff in Bireuen is a testament to the passion and strength of the Aceh people. While UMCOR Indonesia has three field offices, the office in Bireuen was the first site established. Most of the staff are from the region and have worked there since the office first opened in October 2006. Some are Christian and some and some are Muslim, and most lost numerous family members to the tsunami and to the 30 year conflict preceding it.

About twice a month, many take the overnight bus journey to visit their spouses and children in Medan. Most of their time however is in Bireuen. They work long hours, dedicated to empowering communities and creating sustainable programs that they hope will contribute to a lasting peace.

Spending time with them felt like being with a tightly knit family. In the office, I noticed a shelf lined with soccer balls. When I inquired, I was quickly shown the nets they use as goals in the parking lot and the schedule of futbol games for their league. In addition to the league, they play friendly matches with beneficiaries and staff from other agencies. It turns out the UMCOR team is often listed in the newspaper as the winning team.

Food seems to be another team building tradition in the UMCOR Bireuen office. When we first arrived, we were invited to join some of the staff at a local restaurant. They were so friendly and easy to be with in a way that you don’t often find among coworkers. Every day, the staff cook prepares a wonderful lunch for them and they make it a point to return from the field to break bread together. Our last night there we were treated to a barbeque at the office. The feast was a fun and memorable way for us to complete our trip before heading back to the US. They prepared three kinds of fish on the grill, a huge pot of rice, fruit punch made with about every imaginable tropical fruit chopped into it, two different sauces and fresh vegetables. I was told that even the poorest people in Aceh do not go hungry because there is always fish.

It was a joy for me to experience the beloved community in the Bireuen office. In addition to all they have lost, they continue to sacrifice to support each other in mission and rebuild the land that they love.

Melissa Hinnen, UMCOR Staff Writer

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