Local girl rebuilds the lives of Indonesians

Lismores Katie Coughlan with her friend Yoyok, whose entire village was destroyed by the earthquake that rocked Java on May 26, killing 6000 Indonesians.

Lismores Katie Coughlan has gone a long way since she was a Lismore High School student delivering the Echo each week for a bit of extra pocket money. One month ago, instead of newspapers, she found herself delivering food, water and other necessities to Indonesians whose entire villages were destroyed by the earthquake that hit Yogyakarta on the island of Java on May 26. She has since been rewarded with a certificate of appreciation from the Indonesian government for her help with emergency relief.

Katie was in Indonesia studying through ACICIS, a program hosted by Murdoch University in Perth that partners Australian university students with Indonesian universities. On the day of the earthquake she was one of the lucky ones who happened to be out of town, and it wasnt until Katie travelled back to Yogyakarta the next day that she witnessed the unbelievable devastation houses flattened to the ground and people begging for water, food and medical attention.

That first morning really brought home to me how urgent the situation was. A lot of the students felt really immersed in the local community and felt we had to do something given our local knowledge, language skills, proximity to the area and access to dollars, said Katie from her home in Yogyakarta.

Katie and several other students emptied their personal bank accounts, hired a truck and started shopping, gathering basic supplies and doing drop offs to the worst affected areas.

We drove to a village of a close friend of mine whose area was one of the hardest hit, Katie said. I will never forget seeing him on the side of the road waiting for us with tears in his eyes. Not because he was sorry for himself, but because he was overwhelmed we had come.

About 40 Australian university students were caught up in the earthquake and Katie said they experienced many touching moments while delivering aid.

In some places by the time we had unloaded and chatted a bit, some of the women had cooked the food we had brought them on wood fires and were offering us their aid to eat! she said.

Katie applauded the resourcefulness of the Indonesians and the way they coped with the disaster, but said there is no doubt that this rebuilding and healing process will be years in the making.

The generosity and resilience of the Indonesian people was also noticed by Katies parents, Veronica and Patrick Coughlan, who recently visited their daughter.

I was really, really shocked by the devastation I saw, said Veronica from her home in Lismore, but I was also really amazed by the way the Indonesian people just got stuck into rebuilding their homes and their lives. No one was sitting around waiting for help.

Katie and her fellow students have now ceased their emergency volunteer work, handing any funds they collect over to local NGOs that they know and trust will use the money wisely. Katie says with the earthquake well and truly out of the headlines, people in Australia need to be reminded that aid is still desperately needed, and encourages people to give to the Red Cross and Oxfam.

Back in Lismore, Veronica showed this journalist photos of their recent trip, with shots of the horrific aftermath interspersed with happy photos of reunion dinners with her daughter. When asked if she was proud of her daughters work, Veronica was lost for words. But the tears in her eyes said it all.

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