Horror in the homeland

Though thousands of miles from Indonesia, Jonathan Wijaya was quickly aware of the tragedy unfolding in his homeland.

He cringed as his TV displayed inconceivable images and details stemming from an earthquake-induced tsunami that devastated portions of his country.

Since the Dec. 26 catastrophe, his living room has been flooded with vivid pictures of a country coping with a death toll of 100,000 people. Indonesia — specifically the island of Sumatra — was hit the hardest of the 11 countries affected.

A phone call to family residing on Indonesia’s Java Island, southeast of Sumatra, silenced his worst fears. The tsunami did not reach the homes of his parents and sister, who live in the capital city of Jakarta. Wijaya’s brother, Yohanes, who resides in central Java’s provincial capital of Semarang, also escaped injury.

Though grateful, the local resident said his heart goes out to the victims and survivors of the horror that hit so close to his native home.

"I was very sad about so many people killed and I hope the international relief can be of some help to them as soon as possible," said Wijaya, from the 800 block of Snyder Avenue.

News that a 9.0-magnitude earthquake rocked the Indian Ocean off the coast of Sumatra sent shock waves throughout South Philadelphia’s growing Asian community.

At press time, the totals remained bleak: some 140,000 people confirmed dead, tens of thousands missing and 5 million homeless. The United Nations’ disaster coordinator projected that the death toll could climb to 150,000.

President Bush announced that the United States would contribute $350 million to relief efforts, pushing global support to $2 billion, and this week introduced a national fundraising effort to be led by his father and former President Bill Clinton.

Wijaya, 49, said he would contribute his prayers and a monetary donation to help assist Indonesia’s victims. Others are rapidly following suit.

The local Asian community has banded together to help bring relief to the 11 Asian and East African countries affected by the tsunami.

Brad Baldia, a chair on the Philadelphia chapter of the National Association of Asian American Professionals, said his organization raised $25,000 by its Jan. 3 deadline. Via the group’s Web site, donators contributed to the American Red Cross and the Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere, or CARE, agency.

"The Philadelphia Asian community is trying to respond as quickly as possible," said Baldia, also the director of outreach for United Communities of Southeast Philadelphia.

The 250 members of the Indonesia Full Gospel Fellowship Church, 2026 S. 13th St., also have established ways to aid their homeland.

"We’re not only going to pray for them, we’re going to do something more," said Pastor Aldo Siahaan, 34. "We’re planning to have a fundraiser that we’re going to send to the tsunami area."

The church will collect the contributions during Mass and by word of mouth, added Siahaan, originally from Java Island.

Though the monetary donations are a good start, the pastor said he wishes his church could do more.

"All we can do is fundraise, because we have a bunch of clothes, but we don’t know how to send it to Indonesia because it will cost a lot for shipping," said Siahaan, also a youth leader in Philadelphia’s Asian community.

The Rev. Yandi Yandi, who presides over an Indonesian Mass at the Snyder Avenue Congregational Church, Third and Snyder, has organized a Jan. 15 meeting with other religious figures to include visuals of the tsunami’s devastation, explanations of its formation and fundraising tactics.

"It’s more of a mix between a meeting and a Mass because we’re going to pray, then there’s a short sermon, and there will be an explanation of what happened," said Yandi.

The gathering will be held at Ss. John Neumann and Maria Goretti High School, 10th and Moore streets, and may be spoken in Bahasa Indonesian, the country’s national language, Yandi said.

Meanwhile, the reverend said he continues to collect donations from the nearly 30 members who attend his Mass.

Cardinal Justin Rigali, head of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, held a Mass dedicated to tsunami victims yesterday at the Cathedral Basilica of Ss. Peter and Paul, 17th and the Parkway.

The archbishop also has urged the 275 parishes in his archdiocese to hold special collections during Sunday Masses to assist with relief efforts. Catholic Relief Services, the official international relief and development agency of the U.S. Catholic community, will distribute the funds.

At St. Thomas Aquinas Church, 1719 Morris St., the Rev. Yulianus Adi informed his Indonesian parishioners of the tragedy with great dismay.

"When I announ-ced it to my people, they were very surprised and shocked because they can’t imagine what has happened," said Adi, who coordinates the parish’s Indonesian Mass on Sundays.

Last Friday, the reverend held a prayer service in celebration of the new year and in remembrance of those killed by the deadly waves.

"We would like to close this year with reflection," Adi said in his office last Wednesday. "We also would like to welcome the new year."

The priest also is organizing an interfaith prayer service with the Muslim and Christian communities for next month.

Grief-stricken parishioners unable to reach loved ones in affected regions should seek immediate counseling, said Adi.

"Sometimes they don’t want to bother me," he said. "If they have a problem, they keep silent or just tell their friends. I have to be proactive."

United Communities’ Baldia compared the tsunami relief efforts to those that were organized in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001.

"It’s going to be a good opportunity for community groups to start working together," he said. "It’s not just an Asian thing."

Where to donate

American Red Cross
International Response Fund
Box 37243
Washington, D.C. 20013
800-HELP-NOW (800-435-7669)

151 Ellis St. NE
Atlanta, GA 30303-2440

Catholic Relief Services
P.O. Box 17090
Baltimore, MD 21203-7090
Write ‘tsunami earthquake relief’ on check

(Salvation Army World Service Office)
South Asia Relief Fund
615 Slaters Lane
Alexandria, VA 22313