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One Doctor Makes a Difference in Banda Aceh


After a massive earthquake triggered the December 26 tsunami that has killed more than 150,000 people in 12 Indian Ocean countries, aid organizations around the world were galvanized into action. In Indonesia's tsunami-devastated Aceh Province - where more than two-thirds of the death occurred - ordinary Indonesians from all over the country came to lend a hand, as did many foreigners from around the globe. VOA's Nancy-Amelia Collins in Banda Aceh spent Saturday with one doctor who came to help and filed this report.

At sunrise in Banda Aceh, Mustafa Yoldash has just finished early morning prayers. Rising from his prayer mat, the 35-year-old German-born Muslim of Turkish descent walks to a tent several meters away to check on a patient.

Dr. Yoldash arrived in Banda Aceh five days ago from Hamburg to volunteer his services to the tsunami survivors. He says when he saw scenes of the disaster on television, he felt compelled to help.

"First of all, if you decide to become a doctor, your ideal is to help people without [consideration] of their religion, their language, their color of skin," he said. "So I have connections to Indonesian people in Germany, so when I saw these kindly people having lost their relatives it was clear for me to come here."

The doctor said he and his colleagues tried to offer their services to government and relief organizations, but because of bureaucracy, there was the possibility of long delays.

Not to be deterred, Dr. Yoldash and three colleagues from Germany raised money, gathered medical supplies, and hopped on a plane to Aceh, where grateful doctors from the Indonesian Red Crescent snapped up their services.

But even after seeing the heart wrenching scenes on television, Dr. Yoldash said he was not prepared for the devastation he saw when he arrived last week.

"I have written to my family that they could not imagine what is going on here when they have not seen the situation with their own eyes," he said. "You see also people, for example, in a family having lost nine members, only two remaining. They are looking at you, but they are looking through you and the loss of their family is much more painful for them than the injuries that they have."

Dr. Yoldash is working in the only emergency civilian field hospital in Banda Aceh, where most facilities were destroyed. He and the other 49 doctors see between 200 to 300 patients a day.

The hospital is equipped with eight tents for 120 patients, two labs, two emergency rooms, and one operation room. They hope to move into a safe building within the next two weeks.

Raising his voice over the aid helicopters flying overhead, Doctor Yoldash said he has learned to make do with what he has.

"You learn a lot of new things here that - such an amount of injuries you would never see in Germany.

It is another way of working," he explained. "You cannot work as sterile as you would do in Germany, so you have to change your total mind and opinion about the education of medicine that you have learned in Germany. This is another life here. We try to be as clean as possible, but the opportunities are limited here."

The married father of a 13-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son reads a text message he just received from his daughter in Hamburg.

"Dear Father, we hope that you are okay and the injured people are also well," he reads. "Everyone out of my class wants to go to Indonesia and help the people there, and they are proud of you, and we miss you."

Dr. Yoldash said he fears for the future of the people here, who need medicine and equipment urgently. It is his greatest hope that more doctors from around the globe will come to Aceh to lend a hand.