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Zainal's story: a traditional home

Indonesian mother and baby“I am 60 years old and I have only experienced one tsunami like this," says fisherman Zainal Abidin. When the giant waves hit Pulo Breuh island off the northern tip of Aceh province, he was working on a boat near the beach collecting coral for building.

He survived by swimming in the water for half an hour, but his colleague did not. The family also lost a granddaughter and their maid.

Zainal’s wife Saribanun, 47, was out collecting grass for her handicrafts, saw the water coming and ran away to higher ground. But the family’s house in Seurapong village was destroyed.

Earthquake-resistant houses

When the British Red Cross began building houses in the nearby village of Teunom Baru, where Zainal’s family relocated after the disaster, people were offered a choice of design: a concrete-brick house or a traditional-style wood-frame house, both on stilts. Zainal opted for the second.

“I chose this house because I am afraid of another earthquake and tsunami,” he says. “We feel safer in this wooden stilt house rather than using bricks because it doesn’t shake when there’s an earthquake. I am also happier because it’s cooler.”

All of the 2,200 houses built by the Red Cross in the tsunami-affected area of Indonesia are built to withstand a magnitude 6 quake, and should protect people inside up to magnitude 7. But tsunami survivors remain anxious about the possibility of another disaster. 

Hand-stencilled design

The couple live with two of their five children in the two-bedroom house. Their three grandchildren are regular visitors, including the baby boy nestling in Saribanun’s arms. Like other homes on the island, the living room walls are decorated with hand-stencilled patterns of red, blue and green flowers, commissioned from a local artist for around £25.

Zainal also lost his boat in the tsunami. With a cash grant from the Red Cross, he set up a small shop selling household items in a wooden shed in the garden. After two years, he used the profits to buy another boat.

With the wisdom of someone who’s been fishing since he was a child, Zainal says it has become harder to make a living from his trade since the tsunami. “Now there are more people doing the same activity, because they have been given boats,” he says.

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