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Aceh's Camp 85 Brings Order From Chaos


In Indonesia's tsunami-devastated Aceh province, workers continue to dig several thousand corpses out of the mud each day, but most of the survivors living in camps around the region are now receiving food and medical attention.

Camp 85 is a settlement of more than 100 tents squatting in a grove of trees beside a road that winds along the western coast of Aceh. Its muddy footpaths and tents of every size and color are home to 1400 survivors from four fishing villages that were obliterated by last month's tsunami.

Although memories of the tragedy are still fresh, the camp is beginning to feel like an actual village, except for the dozens of relief workers camped among its people.

Several aid workers play volleyball with some of the boys in the camp, saying the exercise is good therapy.

In a nearby tent, filled with boxes of medicines and some field cots, doctors examine patients with colds and fevers and remain vigilant for signs of highly contagious diseases like cholera, measles and malaria.

In another tent, several dozen children recite lessons, while volunteers chat with their mothers and watch for signs of trauma.

One of these volunteers is Yulianda, a 17-year-old man with boyish features and a quiet manner. He lost his entire family to the tsunami - father, mother, sister and two brothers. He survived because he was away visiting friends. He came because a nephew was being treated at the camp, and decided to stay and help.

Yulianda says an Indonesian relief organization wants to take him to Jakarta so he can continue his education, but he cannot go for now, because the government has banned travel for orphaned Acehnese children in order to prevent possible child trafficking.

Jamalia, 23 year-old mother of two toddlers, is squatting by a tent where clothing is being distributed. She lost her mother and two little sisters.

She says the food and everything else is good in the camp. She just hopes there will be help in rebuilding her home and a school for her children.

For now, the residents of Camp 85 are hunkering down for a long stay.

Some of the village men are enlarging the camp's prayer house, a wooden frame with a tin roof.

Nearby, workers wearing surgical masks fire up an insecticide sprayer and spread its white fumes around the tents to kill mosquitoes that carry malaria and dengue fever, both common here during the rainy months.

Relief workers say Camp 85 is one of the best-run of the settlements that popped up like mushrooms along the Acehnese coast after the tsunami. They say this is largely due to the camp chief, Burhanuddin Abdullah, who provided leadership during the chaotic early days.

Mr. Abdullah, a spare 54-year-old carrying an elder's cane, says when they first move into the area, the people had no food. So he raided a warehouse and took some rice. He says he told the owner he would pay him, but the owners refused, telling him to consider it a gift.

He says the camp is well supplied with food and medicine for the coming weeks. What the people mainly need is help in dealing with the future, because they have lost everything.

Mr. Abdullah says they need help in finding jobs and building new houses, that is all. He says that given the chance, 90 percent of the people would return to the village.

The tranquility that has settled on the camp apparently hides some serious problems. An American doctor named Sanjay Thomas, who is volunteering through the World Harvest relief group, says three-fourths of the residents are suffering from the after-effects of the trauma.

"The main things we see now are mainly psycho-social issues, a lot of patients who are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a lot of families who are separated, missing,” he said. “A lot of counseling is needed, more than acute medical care, a lot of long-term social care."

He says social workers are planning programs for the next several months that will bring people together to talk about their ordeal and express their emotions, a practice that is not common in this society.

Nevertheless, he says overall this camp is being well taken-care of and as a result, his team in the coming days will probably move to another area that has been less fortunate.

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