Although she is only 25 years old, Alfiyah has worked in three major disasters in Indonesia – the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004, the Yogyakarta earthquake in 2006 and now the Padang earthquake in 2009.
When a disaster happens, which is pretty frequently in Indonesia, it’s her job to help people make contact with missing relatives.
Alfiyah, who is normally based in Jakarta, arrived in Padang two days after the earthquake. She said: “We’ve had around 40 calls from outside west Sumatra from people who haven’t been able to reach their relatives in Padang and Pariaman. People are scared, they don’t know what’s happened to their family – whether they have survived the earthquake or not.”
In the aftermath of the quake, the Indonesian Red Cross launched a national hotline for people all over the country and overseas to call if they haven’t been able to contact friends or family.
When Alfiyah and her team of volunteers receive a call, they go to the missing person’s last known address and if the person isn’t there, they talk to the neighbours and keep investigating until they find out what has happened to them.
The team also visited remote villages – where mobiles don’t work – with a satellite telephone for people to contact relatives and friends they hadn't spoken to since the earthquake.
Alfiyah said: “We had one man call from Jakarta. He hadn’t been able to reach his brother in Padang. He had been calling and calling for days but there was no answer and he was really worried that his brother’s house had collapsed.
“After taking down the details, two volunteers went to his brother’s house. Thankfully he was there and we gave him a mobile to call his brother in Jakarta. It was very emotional when they spoke. They were both crying and he was trying to explain that the house was damaged but he, his wife and children were all okay. They hadn’t spoken for four days after the quake, which is a long time not to know if your brother is alive.
“Of course, it can be difficult and upsetting because a lot of people are buried under landslides and rubble and we don’t always have good news for people. But where other Red Cross work provides material goods, I look after people’s emotional needs – I find their family and I really enjoy the job.”
Restoring family links
The Indonesian Red Cross has run a restoring family links service since 1979 when the Vietnam war led to many refugees fleeing from the south of Vietnam to Indonesia. Nowadays when Alfiyah is not at the scene of a disaster, putting people back in touch, she works closely with other Red Cross National Societies.
Alfiyah said: “We have a lot of Afghans in Indonesia and there are also many in Australia, so I often get requests to find relatives from Afghan people in Australia who started a tracing case with the Australian Red Cross.
“We also work with people from East Timor and Myanmar, as many people leaving these countries by boats end up in Indonesia. I have been with the Red Cross for so long now and I can’t imagine working anywhere else.”
Listen to interviews with our emergency response delegate in Indonesia