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Indonesia earthquake: Sanitation, cash grants and knickers

LIMO PURUIK VILLAGE, Padang Pariaman: Three months after an earthquake rocked West Sumatra, 56-year-old Ibu Darmulis’ life has started to settle slowly into a nice balance, along with tens of thousands of residents of Padang Pariaman, one of four areas most affected by the disaster. 

Everyday Ibu Darmulis wakes up at 5am to pray, cleans the house or washes the clothes, then walks for 15-20 minutes to the rice farm before embarking on her mission to “convince people in my community to change their hygiene behavior”.

As a public health community mobiliser, Ibu Darmulis takes her responsibility very seriously and happily, going from door to door to explain why and how simple change in personal hygiene and sanitation could better their quality of life. “I never get tired of this and want to do this as long as my energy allows,” said the grandmother of three kids.


 Everyday in the morning and afternoon Ibu Darmulis walks for 15 minutes to this rice field which her neighbour has entrusted her to take care of. [Photo credit: Taipida Moodhitaporn] 

Ibu Darmulis has also conducted two community meetings on ‘contamination routes or diarrhoea transmission routes’ and the ’save water chain’. Over 55 women have attended and learned improved hygiene techniques.

Although hand-washing is a common practice in the region, using soap is not. Given the fact that the village’s main water sources are from a canal or a well, a sanitation-related problem is rife.

For an unknown reason, Ibu Darmulis developed a respiratory problem after the disaster. Despite that, she is trying hard not to let the ailment interfere her community work.

I know I can’t force myself so I will do as long as I could. I really enjoy the work,” she said.

Little did Darmulis know that her life would be turned around for the better. On the evening of 30 September, Darmulis was praying with her grandchildren when the earthquake hit. The epicenter was 45 kilometres (28 miles) west-northwest of Padang, Sumatra.


Ibu Darmulis standing next to the rubble of her home. [Photo credit: Taipida Moodhitaporn]

Government reports have confirmed 1,115 dead so far, 1,214 severely injured and 1,688 slightly injured. The most deaths occurred in the areas of Padang Pariaman, Padang, Agam, and Pariaman. Oxfam has programmes in all of the areas ranging from personal hygiene and sanitation to cash grants. Our goal is that at least the basic livelihoods of all affected families in the area will be in place within six months.

According to the government, around 135,000 houses were severely damaged, 65,000 houses were moderately damaged and 79,000 houses were slightly damaged. About 250,000 families (1,250,000 people) have been affected by the earthquake through the total or partial loss of their homes and livelihoods.

Darmulis’ house was badly damaged and one of her grandsons was trapped under the rubble. The boy was hospitalised for seven days before he was discharged. It was also seven days of misery for Darmulis for it was the period she went without any underwear. The clothes that she was wearing were the only ones she had left.

So when she met with a female Oxfam staff, she immediately talked about it. Her plight has become an inspiration for Oxfam to design two different kits especially for women.

Now women in Kampung Ladang as one of the the programme area have received two sets of bras and underwear. Pregnant women also received extra supplies for delivery, soap and clothes for the baby and kitchen set in addition to the pregnant women kit.

I didn’t realise that this could be an inspiration. I still feel shy about it though,” Ibu Darmulis said with a hearty laugh when asked if she knew where the new kits came from. “It’s amazing that an ordinary person with nothing special like me can inspire other people’s work and help make a change,” she said.

Ibu Darmulis admits she still has a lot of work to do in convincing her village fellows to adopt a healthy habit.

Many people still ask me why they should use soap to wash their hands or have a proper toilet but that’s ok, I won’t give up. I want my village to be clean so I will continue working with Oxfam as long as I can,” she said, smiling as she was preparing for the day.

Photo by Taipida Moodhitaporn, Digital Project Manager, Oxfam GB

  1. 2 Responses to “Indonesia earthquake: Sanitation, cash grants and knickers”

  2. By Trish Parnell on Jan 18, 2010

    Wow, Ibu Darmulis is amazing! Thanks for sharing her story. We’re big on handwashing at PKIDs and it’s great to see someone so dedicated to spreading the word about this method of disease prevention.

  3. By Ben on Feb 11, 2010

    Thanks for your comment, Trish! Yes, she is really inspring to all of us especially when you look at the damages to her house and how she’s living at the moment. Great to know that handwashing is also big at PKIDS. In fact, Oxfam also has a separate training on this at local schools in the all disaster zones.

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