Grateful for Geutanyoë


Muhammad Idaffi Othman, the volunteer for Aceh earthquake 2016


I remember reading The Straits Times in Singapore about the 6.5-magnitude earthquake that hit Pidie Jaya, Aceh. I recall reading that some 80,000 people have been displaced, over a hundred killed and, 600 injured and treated in overcrowded hospitals. I recollect seeing the devastating images of the aftermath: tugging at my heartstrings. I immediately told myself – who was coincidentally on university term break – that I have to do my part. Hopefully, this experience would allow me to come back richer in love and empathy. That was when a dear friend told me about Yayasan Geutanyoë – which translates into “Our Foundation”.

On 16th December, I embarked on my first ever solo service trip, in a feeble attempt to give what He has bestowed me to others whom He has tested. In just one day, my angels - family, friends, cousins, uncles, aunties, grandmums, teachers - have contributed their savings to this cause; never have I predicted a total of close to two thousand dollars raised for this cause within a day. I'm blessed to have known generous human beings; regardless of race and religion who were so selfless, like second nature to them. They are the very reason why I'm doing this; that the human spirit and yearn to help one another is still alive.


Day 1 & 2:

On the first two days, I was delighted to be given the chance to know more magnanimous volunteers from Rumoh Baca Hasan-Savvas, on top of the volunteers from Yayasan Geutanyoë that I was introduced to the night before. It was my maiden experience in trauma healing. The local volunteers had planned out a series of activities – including a hands-on drawing session, sing-along and other engagements.

I thought trauma was mere sadness that could be erased simply but from the looks on the toddlers’ faces and kids crying, I knew their trauma was not something trivial. We went to four villages – Rawasari, Mee Peudeuk, Masjid Peudeuk and one more whose name I cannot recall.

In Rawasari, in between my attempts to talk to the children, I managed to strike little conversations with the parents too. One that impacted me most was a mother of a trauma-stricken child – 4-years-old Jihan – who told me her kid has not stopped crying incessantly following the earthquake and refused to return home with her. That was when I knew that this trauma is real – something I have not felt before despite being at least two decades older than Jihan. For that, my motivation to get involved in these engagements was spurred.

All it took to make the little ones here smile were color pencils, a drawing book, an eraser and a nursery rhyme. We managed to cover four villages; each with about 150 kids. All of whom walked home / to their tent with a prize. I wish it was this easy to make Singapore kids genuinely happy.

The two days of psychosocial activities we did in the villages were not something I would trade with anything for. From the volunteers who sacrificed their term breaks and weekends, I learnt compassion, love, care and genuine hope for the hopeless. From the villages and the children, I learnt true contentment, gratitude and faith that there is always light at the end of the tunnel.


Day 3 – 6:

The next three days were almost equally humbling. Under the planning of the directors of Yayasan Geutanyoë, I tagged the team to several affected villages all over Pidie Jaya. Literally all over; we had to cross wooden bridges, drive through narrow stilts and around huge paddy fields, ride pasts scenic greeneries to get to some of them. The most interesting journey was to Kampung Buloh; where cars were not able to enter as it’s located across the river. So, we called the children and the teenagers to come out and assist us with the distribution of aids – Indomie, drinks, diapers and other essential items. The kids were so excited – just like I was when crossing the wooden bridge. I asked one of them to pose for my camera; this one willingly smiled for it.

We moved from village to village to bridge information gaps pertaining to recovery plans and to distribute food aids. Besides distributing the essentials, what was more key was that Yayasan Geutanyoë actually had a meeting with many of the villagers of the various villages to comprehend what kind of support and help they need. It’s always good to have engagements so we don’t just assume but really get what they truly need in times of crisis. One of the sessions that warms my heart the most was the night meeting we had with the villagers in Rawasari. I could feel the love, care and concern they had for one another. Their active involvement in vocalizing their hopes and aspirations after the earthquake truly embodies the massiveness of their hearts. They didn’t ask for themselves; but I remember men and women requesting aids for the elderlies, the handicapped and those with special abilities.


Hopes and Wishes:

The strength of Acehnese inspires me. Perhaps, this is the product of a community that has survived through a 30 years armed conflict and a deadly tsunami. My heart moves a little every time they greet each other with the sincerest of salam. They'd wind down the car windows to say salam to every single villager they crossed paths with; every single one. My heart breaks every time I see their living conditions but my heart is re-patched every time I see that nothing can break their spirits.

The 6 days in Pidie Jaya have been humbling and perspectives-altering. I took this choice to be at ground zero not solely to give what I have; deep down I knew I was the one in need. In need of a shake - like the quake that has destroyed this city - that could destroy my ego and inner impurities.

Hearts here connect like webs of spiders. Speaking of spiders, this place offers all kinds of insects and animals, all of whom became my sleeping companion. I ask The Almighty to protect and love the hundreds of little ones whose fingers I don't mind interlaced with mine forever, I ask to keep tender the souls of mothers whose proudest achievement is to be able to wake up in the morning and sell food to raise their children. I ask that this land be filled with more of your bounties.

With Yayasan Geutanyoë team

To Yayasan Geutanyoe, my heart flows with gratitude for the love and care you showered on this volunteer who knows nothing. My soul bleeds with extreme thankfulness to Him for allowing me to meet other men who tirelessly entertain me with their jokes and attempts to find me an Acehnese girlfriend.

I brought a book with me in this journey wherever I go. I find a line in that book perfectly describes how I feel right now - For you, a thousand times over.

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Muhammad Idaffi Othman,
volunteer for Aceh earthquake 2016

We are dedicated to cultivating and upholding values of humanity, dignity, peace and sustainability in Aceh and Southeast Asia.