“It was Christmas Eve. The tree glimmered with ornaments, neatly wrapped gifts piled underneath. Our home was brightly lit, Silver Bells played softly in the background and the smell of freshly baked cookies permeated the room. I heard the bustle of footsteps on the front porch. ‘They’re here!’ I cried out excitedly. My family and I hurriedly ran to the door to greet our guests.
“I remember the soft glow of vanilla candles as we sang carols like Jingle Bells and White Christmas all night long. Of course, we were swatting mosquitoes and dripping in sweat, but that was part and parcel in a tropical Christmas Eve.
“Then Christmas morning arrived. We have two little daughters, Kezia and Rachel, aged 8 and 3. My heart swelled with love as I watched them walk clumsily out of bed in their matching pink pajamas. When those sleepy eyes spied a pile of presents under the tree, the excitement began.
“Guests came in and out that day and by evening we were exhausted. Before bedtime, my husband read the nativity story to our daughters and kissed them goodnight. I remember thinking how blessed we are.
“That night was the most peaceful night I’ve ever experienced – no one could have guessed that the following day would bring the world’s second largest earthquake, and a tsunami that would kill hundreds of thousands people, displace millions more and tear cities to the ground.
“Something stirred me awake early the next morning; I had a strong feeling that we should go out for a drive, maybe stop by a jogging track to do a little exercise. So at about 6:30am we nestled our family into the car with a batch of Christmas cookies to deliver to some work colleagues. We stopped by several different soccer fields and lightly jogged around the track.
“Then we headed toward the mountains to deliver the cookies. I saw that the sky ahead of me was jet black… On the way there, the earthquake hit. At first I thought we had a flat tire, and then two flat tires, then all four tires were bouncing up and down. My husband jumped out of the car; everyone was out of their homes and lying flat on the ground.
“We all got out of the car and lay down with our chins pressed against the rough asphalt. Rumbling sounds like thunder boomed above our heads. I began looking around for cracks in case the ground suddenly swallowed us up. Then after what felt like an eternity, the shaking stopped. The rumbling died away. Slowly we climbed back inside the car and continued on our journey.
“We arrived at our friends’ home safely, but everyone was distressed after what happened. We comforted one another, delivered the cookies and headed to the other section of town to check on four other friends. When we arrived, they were weeping outside the building. They had been on the fourth floor when the quake hit and they were still traumatized from the shaking. They had been locked in the building and could not get out for several minutes. They had made several trips up to the fourth floor and back down again looking for the keys.
“We spent some time encouraging them and left to check on two other friends, both women. They were very frightened and upset. I thought it would be a good idea to invite them home so we could calm down and just talk.
“But as I pulled out of the driveway to go home, I saw that the sky ahead of me was jet black. It seemed like a huge storm was stirring at that end of town. Then I saw people screaming, panic stricken, and running from that direction. Cars and motorbikes zoomed by, there were children screaming for their parents and everything was chaotic. I saw one of our friends running toward us. ‘Go back! Head towards the mountains!’ he cried above the clamor. I spun the car around, and floored the accelerator, rushing through the growing traffic. I thought it was the end of the world. Dead bodies hung on trees and front gates.
“We finally reached the mountains and remained outdoors for the next 8 hours. When I returned later that evening, half of BA was gone. The town was in ruins. Dead bodies hung on trees and front gates.
“I couldn’t believe my eyes. My house was destroyed. I had the house key, but I couldn’t find the front door. Everything from passports to wedding pictures and my daughters’ Christmas gifts were gone.
“The building where we worked (YDS) was severely damaged by the Tsunami. Sixty percent of our staff was instantly homeless. Most of them lost members of their immediate family, relatives and friends.
“With support from various donors including Saddleback Church of Lake Forest, California, through Roy van Broekhuizen, YDS started recruiting more personnel and re-establishing its programs in Banda Aceh. The vision of YDS was to help young families like us to rise from the ashes, to deal with our grief, and empowering us to extend a helping hand to other survivors to rebuild their lives and communities.“
Note: Hana (shown, left above) has been our Project Manager at Laga Handbags, overseeing production activities in Banda Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia for nearly twelve years now. With her sewing skills Hana has been able to produce Acehnese traditional handbags which are known for its sewing complexity. While working for Laga Handbags, she has been committed to the vision of educating Acehnese women in an effort to increase their self-confidence and skills, which in turn has helped them gain financial independence.
Over the years, Hana has conducted monthly handbag training courses for women who are then able to use their new skills. Building this confidence is valuable for their future. We are so honored and proud to have Hana on our team.
Please feel free to click here and visit our website to see the amazing embroidery work done by Hana and many other tsunami survivors we serve!