Construction starts on Tzu Chi-funded village in Aceh to house disaster refugees

Taiwan Headlines, September 26, 2005

Taipei, Taiwan -- The tsunami caused by the great earthquake in South Asian seas last December resulted in over 200,000 deaths in the Indonesian province of Aceh. Taiwan's Tzu Chi Foundation for Buddhist compassion relief was among the first organizations on the ground in Aceh after the disaster to provide relief to residents of the area.

Since then, the organization has been making plans to construct a "compassion village" in the Aceh capital of Banda Aceh to provide housing for 3,700 families. Construction on the village kicked off on Saturday. It is expected that facilities will be ready by the end of the year for a first group of 500 families to move in.

A number of ranking Indonesian government officials were on hand to witness the groundbreaking ceremony for the village on Saturday, including Indonesia's minister for social welfare as well as the governor of Aceh province. In remarks made to the gathering assembled to mark the event, the two officials stated many times their gratitude to the Taiwanese people for their love and compassion.

The Tzu Chi Foundation, in respecting the religious beliefs of the local people, provided for Muslim prayers and activities to be held both before and after the groundbreaking ceremonies. A number of children who live in a tent camp wore traditional Islamic garb and staged various dances in honor of the activity. According to the blueprints for the village, there will a prayer room and other facilities constructed for residents where they can carry out their religious beliefs.

Venerable Master Cheng Yen, who heads up Tzu Chi, provided remarks in written form. Master Cheng Yen recalled that Taiwan experienced a large earthquake on September 21, 1999 and has been hit by a number of storms, which have caused heavy destruction, loss of life and broken homes. He said that Taiwan is well able to emphasize with the situation that the Indonesians have faced. He said that there comes a day when the food, clothing and other materials that have been provided may run out. However, the actual structures that are being built to provide shelter for the residents of Aceh are permanent and express unlimited compassion for these people.

The mayor of Banda Aceh said that the city presently still has 65,000 people who are refugees due to the disaster. Of these, 50,000 are still live in tents or relief centers, while another 15,000 have moved in with relatives or other family members. Because of the high temperatures in the region, it is quite hot for those living in the tent area. The mayor said that the living environment for these people has not been ideal. He said that it is lucky for them that Tzu Chi has expressed the willingness to provide residents of the area with permanent housing, helping these people whose lives were uprooted by the disaster to start a new life.

Liu Su-mei, the executive director of the Tzu Chi Foundation's unit in Indonesia, said that the "compassion village" will have 3,700 homes. Construction on the first group of 500 homes is expected to be completed by the end of this year. Of these homes, 200 will be provided to ethnic Chinese in the area who were victims of the disaster. However, the focus of the project will be to provide permanent housing to people who are presently housed in the tent camp. The remaining homes in the project are expected to be completed in February of next year.

The earthquake and tsunami disaster has also resulted in a large number of orphans. Liu said that after the people living in the tent camp are moved to permanent housing, the tent camp will be torn down and an orphanage will be built on that land. This will provide a place where children who have lost their parents and relatives can reside and be taken care of.

Liu added that each home in the compassion village is slated to be about 15 pings in size. Each apartment will have two bedrooms and a living room. In addition, each will have a bathroom. In addition to the housing facilities, the village will also have a school, a clinic that will provide free healthcare as well as an activities center. Tzu Chi expects that the construction of the village will cost about US$30 million. It is still waging donation campaigns to raise the funds needed.

Liu said that in light of the frequent earthquakes that strike the region, all of the buildings constructed in the compassion village in Banda Aceh will only be single-story structures. This will be different from the five-story structures built in a compassion village that the organization that operates in Jakarta.

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