Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

CRS representative visits Eastern Washington, explains tsunami relief efforts

by Jami LeBrun, Inland Register staff

(From the June 9, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)

Though it happened over six months ago, tsunami relief efforts in southeast Asia are still going strong, and Catholic Relief Services (CRS) wants donors to know exactly how their dollars are being used and what the future holds for the people and communities they contributed to so generously.

CRS is the U.S. bishops’ overseas development and emergency relief agency. In response to the tsunami tragedy, Catholics of the Spokane Diocese donated nearly $340,000 to CRS for relief efforts. About half of that was donated through Catholic Charities of Spokane, while the other half was donated directly to CRS.

Anna Schowengerdt, an emergency relief worker and the manager for new business development for CRS, was in Aceh, Indonesia, one of the hardest hit areas by the tsunamis. She helped coordinate the most immediate relief efforts following the initial earthquake and tsunamis.

Schowengerdt came to Spokane in mid-May for a series of presentations at schools, colleges and non-profit organizations, detailing tsunami relief efforts. With the aid of a photo slide presentation, Schowengerdt described the massive devastation in Aceh, a province in Indonesia that was 80 percent destroyed. The faces of grieving children, massive piles of rubble strewn throughout the country where homes and buildings once stood, bodies floating in tepid water, roads ripped out and bridges destroyed by the massive earthquake and the subsequent tsunamis told the sad story of destruction.

But Schowengerdt also shared a story of hope. Photos showed men and women working to rebuild homes and businesses, purify wells, repair roads, bridges and canals and build pipelines through the CRS-sponsored “Cash for Work” program.

“Cash for Work was a great program because it kept people occupied,” said Schowengerdt. “They felt like they were rebuilding and making a contribution, and at the same time the program helped rejuvenate the economy.”

Every person in Aceh was affected by the tsunami in some way. Some lost spouses and children. Others lost homes, businesses, and livelihoods; and still others lost friends and other loved ones. But there is still room for joy in this area devastated by an immense natural disaster.

“The kids are still playing,” said Schowengerdt and she showed a picture of a group of children laughing and wrestling in a refugee camp, and the grateful smile of an elderly man as he filled his jug with fresh water provided by relief agencies.

Though initial relief efforts focused on food, water, shelter, and health, the teamwork of the various relief agencies made those initial emergency efforts move quickly, and in a short time, relief agencies began working to rebuild the economy and help citizens make long-term plans for their futures, and the futures of their families.

CRS and other relief agencies helped widows and widowers to coordinate child care and labor so that families who lost a parent can still make ends meet. While a widowed father works through Cash for Work or another similar program, a widowed mother will watch his children along with her own in exchange for a part of his wages. This system of childcare will allow families to survive and recuperate as they deal with overwhelming losses.

Because CRS already had programs in place in all of the regions affected by the Dec. 26 earthquake and tsunamis, CRS was on the scene mobilizing relief teams and supplies within an hour. Schowengerdt also credited the quick response of private donors with CRS’ ability to mobilize quickly.

“I’ve never seen an emergency response on our part happen so smoothly and I think it’s because we had the resources, because of private donations,” she said. “It enabled us to get the equipment, supplies and services we needed to get to the poor and affected.”

The long-term future of southeast Asia is still unsure. Most citizens find themselves waiting – waiting for well water to be purified, for soil saturated in salt deposits to regenerate, to finally save up the money to purchase a new fishing boat, replacing what was lost to the tsunami’s waves. Most of those killed were women and children, leaving many adult men and few adult women. This disproportionate population will also have long-term effects on tsunami-affected areas.

There is still a lot of work to be done in southeast Asia, and just as they have been before, and in other countries throughout the world, CRS is there for the long haul.

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