Indonesian group steps up to help typhoon victims

Indonesian group steps up to help typhoon victims
Mr Yusnirsyah Sirin (left), seen here with two colleagues from the ACT foundation, leaving for the Philippines last Wednesday to assess how the group can help victims of Super Typhoon Haiyan.

Among the many humanitarian relief organisations now helping victims of Super Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines is one from Indonesia.

The ACT foundation - short for Aksi Cepat Tanggap, or "quick response action" in Bahasa Indonesia - was formed in the months after the Dec 26, 2004 tsunami that swept through much of Banda Aceh and coastal areas of Indonesia's westernmost province.

The military, neighbouring countries and international relief organisations were swift to step in and mitigate the impact of the disaster that left some 170,000 dead and over 500,000 homeless.

But the scores of Indonesian volunteers who joined them realised a few things: There was no major local group helping out, and much needed to be done to prepare for the next major disaster.

One of the volunteers was Mr Imam Akbari, 41, who visited Aceh to help in January 2005.

"Aceh made us realise we can't just go on responding to every disaster as they come," Mr Imam told The Straits Times. "Damage from disasters can be prevented."

Today, he is senior vice-president of ACT, which is one of Indonesia's most prominent humanitarian relief organisations. It has a volunteer pool of some 500,000 nationwide and a presence in countries from Myanmar to Syria.

Last Wednesday, one of its officers, Mr Yusnirsyah Sirin, left for Manila to determine how best to help and deploy contributions for victims of the typhoon.

On Monday, he was on the remote island of Bantayan, which had been badly battered, with a group of student volunteers.

"We've just been able to distribute bread, blankets and hygiene kits to some 120 displaced families. We're still trying to get a generator here, and it's hard to find clean water," Mr Yusnirsyah, 46, a former photojournalist, told The Straits Times.

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