December 26 – the feast of Stephen resonates with meaning for me. Naturally because of my Christian name this day has a special appeal – it’s the feast day of my patron saint, St. Stephen.
But this year December 26 ‘rings’ to a different tune.
Major international news media have been running special reports on the tragic circumstances surrounding the Boxing Day tsunami which, in terms of loss of lives and ruination, is perhaps the most devastating natural disaster of recent times.
The day ‘rings’ with significance as I will remember it as one of those days when I can keenly recall, “oh yeah, I know exactly where I was where and who I was with when I first heard that news” – akin to those days when memories of assassinations, deaths, and more often significantly bad news rather than good are indelibly imprinted.
Ten years ago early on the Boxing day morning I was having breakfast with my family as we packed our luggage, readying for our return flight to Jakarta. We had just spent the previous weeks leading up to Christmas with my dad as he was recuperating from another sojourn in hospital. Indeed it was my dad who rang me very early on that morning. He urged me turn on the tv and tune into the SBS channel. We were transfixed as watched, or rather listened to, those early reports of an earthquake that had literally just shaken the west coast of Sumatra.
There were no reports then or suggestions of what was about to occur. And in hindsight I’m sure that the majority of viewers at that time would also have been ignorant to what was imminent.
In my own memory ‘tsunami’ was one of those key words helpful to know because it often popped up in spelling bees, it was a definition useful to impress friends in games like trivial pursuit, scrabble or the like.
On the next day, back in Jakarta, I visited my son’s physiotherapy clinic and happened to meet there a medical doctor attached to a research centre that was under the wing of the US Embassy. We of course talked about the earthquake off Sumatra and he mentioned that there was not much immediate news emerging from the area, however he expected that the Embassy would be deploying some medical assistance in that direction in the days ahead. Like the large majority of Indonesian citizens and expat residents we were blissfully unaware of what had actually occurred along Sumatra’s coastline.
In subsequent days those news reports did come through and the images and videos of the waves that had shattered the lives of communities, families and individuals galvanized us.
I also recall my conversation with Geoff Smith who was acting head of school at JIS on Monday December 27. It was my first day back in the Admissions Office after my vacation. The two of us made a decision to act quickly and start coordinating the anticipated responses from the school’s communities – teachers, students, parents, alumni, as well as sponsoring embassies and companies. We re-activated a school wide community service task force that was already in existence at JIS and that had been responsive and responsible to providing relief to flood victims in Jabotabek in 2001.
We renamed that task-force as JIS Cares – JIS Peduli and for the two next years I acted as Chair of that group as we focused on relief efforts on behalf of our stakeholders for our host country families. That leadership experience led to much learning for me and I now share a perspective similar to that offered by Peter Baines in his book called “The Crisis Clock“.
A response to any crisis needs calm management of resources that are both material and human. It’s especially critical to direct the emotions and resolutions of the many communities and partners in service who want to respond to that crisis.
Today it’s timely to re-read that book and applaud Baines’ insight and life changing devotion to those in need.
Over the last few weeks many reporters have retraced their steps to Aceh and reunited with individuals and communities on the ground in Aceh ten years on and I very much appreciated this interview and reflection from Tim Costello, CEO of World Vision Australia, in this link taken from ABC Australia news.
After my own visits to Aceh and my work in that community, Costello’s words resonate with me both sharply and personally.
We do well to apply on Kipling’s rich words as an appropriate epithet to this tragedy – “lest we forget”.