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A Handup . . . not a Handout

“A Hand up… not a Handout

From the book, Hearts Across The Water by Curt Iles

Background: After the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami of Dec. 26, 2004, I traveled there with a medical group. In a small village called Garut, I listened in on the conversation told in this story.

One of the Displaced Person’s Centers along Sumatra’s (Indonesian) Northern Coast is named Garut. It is one of many nondescript assortments of crude buildings, tents, and amassed people you find all along the coast. Before the tsunami it was a cattle pasture. Now it houses about 300 families. The village leader explained that the residents all come from coastal villages wiped out by the wave. They have come together here on higher ground to build a new life and a new village together.

This conversation took place under a large United Nations tent that serves as the village school, hospital, and meeting area. I was simply an eavesdropper on what happened.
The village leader sat down with Jim. Jim is from an American aid group and has the wonderful but daunting task of allocating $16 million worth of tsunami aid throughout the affected areas of Southern Asia.

Beside Jim sat “C”, an American who has spent his entire life among the Indonesian people. C’s job was to interpret this important conversation.

I was sitting ten feet away playing dominoes with a group of children. However, I didn’t miss one word of the conversation going on behind me.

After some visiting and pleasantries, Jim asked the village leader what they needed most. There was a long silence as if the leader was going over a mental shopping list in his mind. Then he replied in Indonesian. C seemed puzzled and asked a question. The village leader repeated his words.

C smiled as he told Jim, “He said most of all they needs goats.”

“Did you say goats?” Jim asked.

“Yes, he says if every family in Garut has 5-7 goats, they could make it. This would allow them to have milk, food, and build large flocks.”

Everyone sat in silence for a few seconds. I don’t know what the others were thinking but here was my thought:

Here was a man and a village not looking for a handout.
They were looking for a “hand up.”

But the village leader wasn’t through….There was another lengthy exchange between C and the Garut leader.

C then turned to Jim, “They would also like boats if possible. The men here were mostly fishermen. They lost all of their wooden boats in the tsunami.”

C pointed toward the sea which was about one kilometer away across the low land wiped out by the wave. “Right now they are still too scared of the ocean to go back out on it, but they know they must, and will, go back to fishing. You can’t fish without boats. They need boats.”

Once again: A hand up… not a handout.

The third conversation between the Indonesian and C was long and full of many gestures. I don’t know about Jim but I was nearly leaning in awaiting the next interpretation.
C smiled as he related to Jim, “He says they would love to also have cutting tools. They do not have any tools to properly cut wood. Saws and axes would allow them to cut firewood for use and sale.”

I could see in my mind these “industrious Indonesians” cutting and sawing up the fallen timber that was everywhere on the tsunami devastated areas.

That was the extent of this conversation. At this point it began to rain. I’d already noticed that the area under the tent and around it had earlier been a barnyard. I knew this because the soil was rich with dried “barnyard fertilizer.” Outside the tent the ground became wet, sticky, and smelly. But that didn’t take away my strong belief that this village of Garut was going to be an oasis of peace, growth, and prosperity.

It was lunchtime. A nearby tent was dispensing sealed bowls of Japanese rice. A village woman checked off the name of each family as they received their allotment. Everywhere in Garut there was a feeling of looking forward, organization, and teamwork.

Right about then is when something started burning a hole in my pocket. That burning sensation came from a large gift of over $1000 sent by the children of Fairview High School in Grant, Louisiana. They had instructed me to use it where it would help most. All of a sudden I had a pretty good idea that those Fairview students were going to be in the goat, boat, and saw business. It looked like a good investment to me.

When we returned to Jakarta I went to our Aid office and deposited this money. I told the staff accountant to use it to buy “goats, boats, and saws” for the northern coast village of Garut. It was my privilege to be the middleman in linking the two villages of Grant, Louisiana, U.S., with Garut, Sumatra, Indonesia.

People often ask me, “Will you return to Indonesia?” I don’t know the answer to that question. I hope so. But I know there are so many other places to go and see also. But if I do, I know one place I’ll go…

It’s called Garut.

And if you should ever go to the northernmost island of Indonesia- the large island called Sumatra, go to this village. From the capital city of Banda Aceh head north in your vehicle toward the coastal mountains. You’ll cross a large river and then a canal. As you travel along the one highway leading out of the city, you’ll have the beautiful Indian Ocean on your left and the foothills of the mountains on your right. About twenty kilometers or so, just right past the curve in the road where you normally have to slow down for monkeys on the road, you’ll see a sign for a village called Garut.

I believe you will find a warm welcome there.
They’ll remember other Americans who have come before you.
You’ll also find a hard-working village that only wanted a hand up, not a hand out.

And while you are in Garut, Sumatra Indonesia, do something just for me.
Visit their goat herds and pet one of them on the head just for me
and especially for the students at Fairview High School
Grant, Louisiana
United States of America.

Copyright 2005 Creekbank Stories
Originally titled, “Boats, Goats, and Saws” from the book, Hearts Across The Water.

About Curt Iles

I write to have influence and impact through well-told stories of my Louisiana and African sojourn.

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