“None of this would be here if the world hadn’t helped”


“All this – my house, my business, the people working with me – none of this would be here if the world hadn’t helped us after the tsunami.”

M. Noor Usman, 61, sweeps his arm in front of him, where two women sit in front of piles of gleaming fish, alternating between selling to customers and cleaning the fish. Motorcycles arrive regularly with large, fiberglass coolers strapped to trailers at the back, full of fish ready to be unloaded. Several of these coolers – the orange ones, now a little faded from the sun – were provided by CARE 10 years ago, Usman says with a smile.


Brightly colored fishing boats line the river next to his warehouse, the ocean just a short distance away. Just down the street, Usman’s wife, Noor Hursiah, sweeps the porch of their house, an airy building painted in a cheerful purple and green.


It is a sharp contrast to the Aceh just after the tsunami. Usman’s community was completely wiped out – houses destroyed, fishing boats twisted on the road, debris and rubble clogging the river. Entire families were washed away, leaving nothing here but silence and grief.


Before the tsunami, M. Noor Usman had been running a successful fish-drying business along the banks of the river in Lampulo, Banda Aceh. His children were all in school, and they had a large, tidy house. In a matter of minutes, it was all gone – his business, his house, and 15 of his staff.


“Everything was destroyed. The only thing that remained of the house was the cement foundation. We were left with nothing,” said Usman, a frown deepening the furrows in his weathered face.

Like thousands of other survivors, Usman and his family moved into a room in a temporary wooden barracks, built to house people until the houses could be rebuilt. Usman used his motorcycle as a motorcycle taxi to make enough money to feed his family, but it was just enough to keep them alive – it wasn’t nearly enough to rebuild.


Then in 2005, he met employees from CARE, who asked him what he needed to re-start his business. He made his case, and he was soon given the basic tools to start his business again: a few fiberglass coolers to hold the fish, drying racks, and plastic tarps to cover the fish. Later, Usman was also one of 1,776 families to receive a new house from CARE.


“That’s all I needed to get started,” he said. “We’ve worked hard over the past 10 years to rebuild, and with my profits I expanded my business and hired more employees.”


He’s also added an addition to his house, big enough for his family and extended family. Instead of just coolers, he now has a series of freezers to store the fish.


“This was our goal,” said Sally Austin, who worked as CARE’s Tsunami Response Director in Aceh. “Our aim was to help save lives after the tsunami, but also to help people rebuild their lives. The people of Aceh are so strong and resilient. As in so many places where we work, people need help to replace some of what they lost in the disaster, but then families will take it from there.”


Usman and people across Aceh are proof of this.


“I’m doing very well now, thanks to CARE. My business is flourishing and expanding. This is what I do, and I did it before the tsunami. CARE helped me start again when everything I had was destroyed. Of course it is not the same as before the tsunami, but we will keep working, and we will get there.”

Written by Melanie Brooks