Nineteen-year-old Surya, from Aceh, Indonesia, still bears the scars of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. They can be seen on his arms, in the way he walks – and in the way he talks about his experience.
Now, ten years on, the young man is rebuilding his life and is finally about to complete his education.
Surya was just nine when he was caught in the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. Twelve members of his family were lost, including his mother and father. Their bodies were never found.
Aceh is located at the northern tip of Sumatra in Indonesia, a province that bore the brunt of the tsunami. An estimated 130,700-plus people were killed and 199,766 houses were destroyed or damaged in Indonesia alone.
Remembering the tsunami
“When I saw the wave rising, I rushed home to tell my family. Together with my mother and my siblings, we all ran inland, while my father stayed at home to lock up. After one kilometre, the water struck us and we all got separated,” he says.
“I was trapped in the water for such a long time, I wanted to breathe, but I couldn’t. Everywhere I looked, there was water and debris. By the time the water had subsided I was struggling to move and I had to drag my body along. It was getting darker and I felt scared,” says Surya.
After some time, a couple approached Surya and asked who his parents were. “They thought they knew me, so they took me to a mosque. After three days, I was taken to a hospital in the city as I was badly injured.”
A few days later, as Surya’s wounds were being treated, he heard talk of people wanting to take him away as he was an ‘orphan’.
The search for his sister
“I knew I didn’t want to go with them. I wanted to stay in Banda Aceh, as I believed that my older sister was still alive,” he explains.
Surya stayed in the children’s ward for some time, until a neighbour happened to pass by his hospital room. “When he saw me, he told me my sister was alive and living in a community not far away. On the day I had my leg surgery, I woke up to see my sister in my room. It had been one month since I had seen her and I cried with happiness,” says Surya.
Finally reunited with his sister, the determined young boy set about learning to walk again. His leg was badly broken and he needed crutches for support. Even though he can now walk on his own, he still worries about his leg. “When it gets dark, I am very careful, as I don’t want to break my leg again,” he says.
Rebuilding his life
But even after returning to his sister’s house, Surya’s life wasn’t straightforward. “I stayed with my sister for a while, but I felt the house was too small, so I went and lived outside in a tent. While I lived there I met staff members from Plan and joined their children’s group.”
Surya then went to a boarding school for six years, and when he returned home his sister and brother-in-law encouraged him to return to secondary school.
Surya is clearly a popular, self-sufficient young man, whose ambition is to be a religious teacher. His sister pays for his schooling, but he pays for his motorbike and despite being one of the older students, he is embracing the opportunity to finish his education.
Having seen the devastation the tsunami wreaked on his life and in his hometown of Aceh, he remains positive. He says, “Aceh is far better now – it has really developed and it is a good place to be.”