Diary From Indonesia: 24 Hours In The Shoes Of An Aid Worker

This is Vanda. Vanda is Head of Disaster Risk Management for Plan International in Indonesia. She’s been working in Palu, in Indonesia’s Central Sulawesi province, since it was ravaged by a 7.4 magnitude earthquake and tsunami almost two weeks ago. The current figures for the earthquake are harrowing: 2,010 dead, more than 5,000 missing and over 1.5 million affected.
Right now, Vanda's main priority is to ensure the protection of girls and women, who are most vulnerable but often forgotten in emergencies. We asked Vanda to keep a diary over 24 hours to give us an idea of what she's dealing with every day on the ground. Here's what she sent...
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5.30am: My alarm goes off. I get up and check in with the rest of my team. There have been at least 10 aftershocks since we got here and they tend to start in the early morning at around 4am. Thankfully there weren’t any last night.
6am: I walk 15 minutes to get to the toilet. There aren’t many toilets at the moment, which can be a huge problem. Sometimes I have to wait over half an hour just to use the toilet. I’m lucky this time, the queue isn’t too long!
I get back to the tent and check in with the rest of the team. We now have a small emergency kitchen with a small stove, the kind people use to go camping in the mountains, so we can eat breakfast now, though there isn’t a lot of food. We eat some noodles.
Sometimes if there is water left I can have a shower. Today there isn’t so I use a wet tissue instead.
7am: I need to check in on emails and respond to enquiries – government, agencies, potential partner organisations, media. I check my social media, though the connection is slow. I post some pictures and more info on what I saw the day before. I tweet as much as I can. It’s a good way to let people know what is happening.
9am: We arrive at one of the main camps, Tosale. I spend all morning here, meeting with families who have been displaced by the earthquake and assessing what the priorities are. One woman I meet is a widow with six children and grandchildren. They lived close to the sea in a village which was hit hard by the tsunami. I find it quite emotional speaking to her. One of her daughters has a disability, and one of them is heavily pregnant – she’s hardly 20. They’re all living in the same tent. Even though I’ve been here for almost two weeks now, I’m still shocked to see how families are living. Her pregnant daughter is terrified about the birth. Hospitals are inundated, they haven’t found a doctor who can deliver the baby and maternal complications are a real risk for young mothers.
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I meet two teenage girls from another large family – 31 family members are sleeping in three tents. They’re both still at school but obviously they can no longer get to school. They tell me how hard it is living in the tent – they have to sleep with so many relatives, and many of them are men. The shower is far away and they have to queue for it – it’s also open so they shower with their clothes on because they feel like they’re being watched when they wash.
We’re finding that this is a real issue for young women and girls and trying to ensure that these facilities are as accessible as possible, because when girls and women are forced to walk long distances – particularly in the dark – they’re at huge risk.

Before I get back to the car I receive a message from a friend. She says that the body of one of our friends from university has just been found in the ruins.

12pm: After meeting more families and young women, I head back to the car and meet with the team. It’s so hot – 35 degrees. I gather some more content from the field to help highlight the situation here. I find a place in the shade and sit on the floor with my laptop to type.
1pm: I check in with the team again and stop quickly for lunch – it’s hard to find somewhere where people are selling food. Before I get back to the car I receive a message from a friend. She says that the body of one of our friends from university has just been found in the ruins of one of the hotels in Palu which collapsed. I’m devastated. I feel so stunned. My friend tells me to 'stay strong' so I don’t cry.
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2pm: A centre has been set up where agencies can use the internet so I go there to work, charge up my devices – my powerbank, my laptop – and meet with other humanitarian workers. At the moment we’re working out how to get everything from Jakarta and set up a warehouse in Palu.

In emergency settings, it’s easy to forget that women and girls are most vulnerable. Adolescent girls are vulnerable to human trafficking, child marriage, transactional sex as families try to find new ways to survive.

I spend the rest of the afternoon in meetings. In emergency settings, it’s easy to forget that women and girls are most vulnerable. In my work, I see how domestic violence increases as desperation and frustrations grow. Adolescent girls are vulnerable to human trafficking, child marriage, transactional sex as families try to find new ways to survive. Many of these incidents go unreported, and it’s our job to make sure women and children are part of the emergency response. I need to remember to drink water so I don’t get dehydrated. From here, I go straight to a coordination meeting with other aid agencies and the government.
9pm: I head back to the camp – set up the tents for the evening and have a 30-minute briefing to check in on everything that has happened. My colleague confirms that 1,000 shelter kits and hygiene kits are due to arrive in the next few days. There is still no electricity or water.
11.30pm: I take a quick shower because now there is water. I finish off some work, answer a few enquiries and pray.
1am: Bedtime.
An appeal to help survivors has been launched by the UK’s Disasters Emergency Committee, to donate visit www.dec.org.uk
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