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They Lived Through It: Tsunami Survivor Stories

Kuchuvava Raghuvaran, Kerala, India

The day of the tsunami, Kuchuvava Raghuvaran was just returning from a morning of fishing in the sea near his home in Kerala, India. He was near the water's edge when the wave engulfed him. He clutched a palm tree as the waters passed over him.

Kuchuvava Raghuvaran

Kuchuvava Raghuvaran and his family luckily survived the tsunami, but lost their home and all their possessions. Photo by David Snyder/CRS

His wife, Sugathamma, and his three grown children and two grandchildren also survived. But their house and all their possessions were lost.

As they struggled through the first weeks after the tsunami, Kuchuvava and his family were buoyed by news that Catholic Relief Services and our local Caritas partners would be building him a new home. By spring, his home was completed. With two bedrooms, a family room, kitchen and bathroom, the house was more than Kuchuvava could have afforded on his $5-a-day wages as a fisherman.

"I tried to work very hard to make such a house," he said, "but it was a distant dream for me. It is something great to have this house."

Marwani, Suak Bidok, Indonesia

Marwani was one of 1,500 villagers of Suak Bidok whose homes sat just yards from the sea in Indonesia's Aceh region. When she caught sight of the approaching tsunami, she grabbed her two youngest children, 5 years and 13 months old, and ducked behind the house.

Marwani

Though Marwani lost her two youngest children in the tsunami, she is trying to heal and move on. Here she plays with her daughter, Tuti Dahliani, in their CRS-built home. Photo by David Snyder for CRS

The wave came with a sound she describes as "like a train." It hit with unspeakable force.

"The children held onto my shoulders, but they were torn free when I was knocked over," says Marwani, who like many Indonesians goes by one name. "I was carried inland [more than a mile]."

Miraculously, her husband and two oldest children survived. Her two youngest, however, were never found.

For Marwani and hundreds of thousands of other Indonesians, the road ahead seemed impossibly long.

Marwani and her family moved into a tent shelter provided by Catholic Relief Services. After a year, she received materials from CRS to build a semipermanent house with metal roofing and wooden walls—still not home, but a far cry from the tents which had housed hundreds of thousands in the aftermath of the disaster.

December 26 marked the fifth anniversary of one of the world's most horrific natural disasters—the Indian Ocean tsunami. Learn more about CRS' work to leave the tsunami's survivors with a legacy of hope.

Today, the village of Suak Bidok has been rebuilt. Neatly ordered houses line the streets and residents enjoy electricity and plumbing. For many, the houses offer more space and convenience than they had before the tsunami. In Marwani's yard, a well—also provided by CRS—supplies water for washing and bathing.

Marwani and her husband have since had another child, and while few days go by that she does not think of the children she lost, Marwani says that the new home was also the start of a new life for her and her family.

"Day by day, month by month, we are trying to get past what happened," Marwani says.

S.G. Herbert, Galle, Sri Lanka

Sitting amid the crumbled walls of his home, surrounded by his scattered possessions and uprooted trees, Mr. Herbert was undaunted. "I am a fisherman," he said. "I will fish again. My sons will cast their nets into the sea."

S.G. Herbert

The home Mr. Herbert and his family received after the tsunami is even sturdier than the one they had before, and has the added luxury of plumbing. Photo courtesy of Caritas Sri Lanka

Just days after the Indian Ocean tsunami leveled his community in the coastal town of Galle, Sri Lanka, Mr. Herbert envisioned his future and began his painstaking journey toward it.

He started by collecting wood planks from the debris to build a small hut to shelter his wife, two daughters and four sons. "Everything that we had earned during our lifetime was washed out by the tsunami," he says today, recalling the devastation.

Then help came. Mr. Herbert and his family received food, water, clothes and other necessities from CRS and our local Caritas partners. They received tarps, which Mr. Herbert used to fortify his hut. Their lives gradually began to improve. Two months after the tsunami, they moved into a temporary shelter built by CRS and Caritas. By late summer 2005, Mr. Herbert had moved into a new home, sturdier even than his original wooden house, and built with the luxury of plumbing.

In an effort to improve the family's financial stability, CRS and Caritas gave Mr. Herbert's wife, G.L. Pusparanai, a sewing machine with which she began earning money by sewing clothes for neighbors and other villagers.

Then finally, Mr. Herbert received a new fishing boat to replace his small canoe lost to the tsunami.

Today he is still fishing. One of his daughters has married. He still makes use of all the materials CRS and Caritas provided him during the emergency and reconstruction. He covers his boat with the tarp. The temporary shelter, still durable after five years, is now a kitchen.

"My present life is improved and better than the previous life which we had before the tsunami, because we have our own house, livelihood and other facilities, too," Mr. Herbert says. "We are all indebted and grateful to Caritas, because they had looked after our lives continuously…They are the people who built up our lives after the tsunami."

Marwani 'Anik' Halijah, Aceh Province, Indonesia

A year and a half after the Indian Ocean tsunami very nearly killed her, Marwani "Anik" Halijah was bringing new life into the devastated world of Aceh province, Indonesia.

Marwani 'Anik' Halijah

Even as she and her family were receiving assistance from CRS, Anik decided she wanted to be part of the recovery work. Photo by Sean Sprague for CRS

Make that two new lives—those of her twin daughters.

It was a new chapter, seemingly ages since the tsunami brought fear and despair to her life. Ages since the tsunami took more than 160,000 people in Aceh alone.

Anik had survived, but she was left severely traumatized. She sank into a monthlong depression, until one day her eyes seemed to open to the condition of other survivors living in the crowded camp of makeshift shelters and tents. Many had lost their children, their spouses, other family members. She still had her mother, her father, husband and 2-year-old daughter. "I may have lost my material possessions, but my family survived," she said.

She determined to begin again. "Nothing can steal my spirit, not even the tsunami," she declared.

Even as she and her family were receiving food, clothing and other assistance from CRS, Anik decided she wanted to be part of the recovery work. She applied for a job with CRS to work as a field officer, helping communities rebuild. "When I am helping another person, I am helping myself," she said. "I know how they feel; I know what they hope for."

She got the job and continued to work with CRS until the program's close this year, giving to the community all that CRS was also giving her—food, clothing, opportunities to earn a living, new marketplaces, hospitals and new homes.

A year and a half after the tsunami, after giving birth to her twins, Anik acknowledged another gift: a new house from CRS, completed just in time to bring home her new daughters.

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