Work­ing HANDs!-in-hand

Young HANDs! fel­lows across Asia are work­ing to­gether to pre­pare their coun­tries against the threat of nat­u­ral dis­as­ters.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - R.age - By CLAIRE AN­THONY­tarRAGE Read the full mul­ti­me­dia story at

AS far as most lo­cals could re­mem­ber, the city of Yo­gyakarta, In­done­sia had never ex­pe­ri­enced an earth­quake.

But that all changed on the morn­ing of May 2006. A 6.3 mag­ni­tude earth­quake struck around 25km south of the densely pop­u­lated city at 5.50am, and it was dev­as­tat­ing.

It killed an es­ti­mated 5,700 peo­ple, and left an­other 1.2 mil­lion home­less.

De­spite a his­tory of vol­canic erup­tions in the area, no one was pre­pared.

“Be­fore 2006, Yo­gyakarta had never felt an earth­quake,” ex­plained Yo­gya res­i­dent and sur­vivor, Gi­lang Da­mar Se­tiadi, 26.

Gi­lang lost fam­ily mem­bers and a close friend dur­ing the dis­as­ter. The de­struc­tion left a deep im­pres­sion on him.

“It made me re­alise I needed to do some­thing to help my home­town,” he said.

Gi­lang is now one of 24 fel­lows on a bi-an­nual dis­as­ter pre­pared­ness pro­gramme called The Hopes and Dreams (HANDs!) To­gether Project, run by the Ja­pan Foun­da­tion.

The project aims to equip young lead­ers from across Asia to save lives in their own com­mu­ni­ties through dis­as­ter ed­u­ca­tion and pre­pared­ness pro­grammes.

Malaysian Yeo Li Shian, 37, is an­other such leader. The for­mer jour­nal­ist hopes to help ed­u­cate fel­low Malaysians about flood pre­pared­ness through a se­ries of on­line video com­edy skits.

“From my re­search, I un­der­stand that most dis­as­ter ed­u­ca­tion and safety drills are very dull and the­o­ret­i­cal,” she said.

“So I hope that us­ing com­edy will get the mes­sage across more ef­fec­tively.”

As part of the pro­gramme, she had to do months of re­search on how Malaysia deals with dis­as­ters. She was shocked to re­alise that most or­gan­i­sa­tions and as­so­ci­a­tions only deal with post-dis­as­ter re­lief.

But with al­most ev­ery state in Malaysia af­fected by flash floods – the most re­cent floods hap­pened over the new year and dis­placed 23,000 peo­ple – it’s clear to Yeo that Malaysia needs to step up its dis­as­ter ed­u­ca­tion game.

“What I want Malaysia to know is that we should all be pre­pared,” she said.

“We’re deal­ing with cli­mate change and even the earth is con­stantly shift­ing. We might not have earth­quakes now, but who knows what lies in the fu­ture? We should be pre­pared be­fore it strikes.”

As part of the pro­gramme, Yeo, Gi­lang, and the other HANDs! fel­lows trav­elled to Phuket, Thai­land in March to learn about the life-sav­ing changes that have been made since the 2004 In­dian Ocean tsunami.

There, they met with a sur­vivor, Wara­porn “Lek” Tip­suthon, 45.

Lek barely sur­vived by cling­ing on to the roof of her restau­rant, but she lost seven fam­ily mem­bers that day, and her beach-front restau­rant was com­pletely de­stroyed.

“We used to joke about tsunamis. We didn’t ex­pect it to ac­tu­ally hap­pen here,” she said.

Her prov­ince, Phang Nga, was the worst af­fected by the tsunami in Thai­land. 4,136 peo­ple were killed and an­other 2,113 never found.

“Just a five or 10-minute warn­ing would have been enough to save my fam­ily,” she said.

HANDs!-on dis­as­ter pre­ven­tion

While it’s true that some dis­as­ters, like tsunamis, are be­yond hu­man con­trol, oth­ers like floods and land­slides could ac­tu­ally be pre­vented.

En­vi­ron­men­tal ed­u­ca­tion con­sul­tant Robert Steele, a guest speaker at the HANDs! Pro­gramme, said sus­tain­able prac­tices could help pro­tect com­mu­ni­ties from some dis­as­ters.

“We defor­est a slope to plant rub­ber trees and think the slope should be okay,” he said.

But be­cause a rub­ber plan­ta­tion does not pro­vide the same lay­ers of pro­tec­tion as a for­est, the im­pact of rain on the soil is much heav­ier, lead­ing to a higher chance of land­slides.

In­spired by all they have seen and learned, the HANDs! fel­lows were tasked with cre­at­ing an ac­tion plan that they can im­ple­ment when they re­turn home.

The HANDs! pro­gramme em­pha­sises mak­ing learn­ing fun, so to get some real-life prac­tice be­fore im­ple­ment­ing their ac­tion plans, the fel­lows came up with dis­as­ter ed­u­ca­tion games for school­child­ren at the Yaowawit School.

Yaowawit School was orig­i­nally set up to ed­u­cate chil­dren af­fected by the tsunami, but now caters to un­der­priv­i­leged chil­dren.

Gi­lang’s group cre­ated ar­guably the most pop­u­lar game among the chil­dren – “Su­per Rope Res­cue”.

Based on learn­ing how to tie dif­fer­ent types of knots, the game al­lowed the chil­dren to recre­ate a wa­ter res­cue with long ropes and empty plas­tic bot­tles, which they did re­peat­edly, with screams of glee.

Be­hind all the fun and games, of course, was a se­ri­ous mes­sage full of hope: Young chil­dren and the wider com­mu­nity play a vi­tal role in re­duc­ing the im­pact of nat­u­ral dis­as­ters, even pre­vent­ing some of them.

“This is a cool project,” said Gi­lang. “Hope­fully this ex­pe­ri­ence will be my step­ping stone to mak­ing some­thing cre­ative and ed­u­ca­tional that will save lives in the fu­ture.”

And as the 24 fel­lows dis­persed across Asia to their homes, it can be safely said that their com­mu­ni­ties share Gi­lang’s hopes.


HANDs! Project fel­low Yeo said Malaysians need dis­as­ter pre­pared­ness and ed­u­ca­tion in light of the al­most-yearly flash floods that sweep the na­tion.

The HANDs! fel­lows learned to make dis­as­ter ed­u­ca­tion fun through games like Su­per Rope Res­cue, which teaches chil­dren to con­duct wa­ter res­cues.

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