Beyond the Waves: How a Tsunami Turned Susi into Disability Inclusive Disaster-Preparedness Advocate

It was a devastating day back in December 2018. A tsunami just swallowed the coasts of Lampung province, in the southern part of Sumatra, Indonesia. This event changed Susi, a person with physical disability who is also an advocate for persons with disabilities rights, as Lampung is her home province. She was only a two-hour drive away from Rajabasa Coast, the area where the tsunami hit. While her family was safe, she was worried about one of her friends with disabilities living there.

Persons with disabilities are often neglected in times of disaster. The lack of knowledge and capacity to protect themselves often leaves them at risk. Especially considering most disaster risk reduction training excludes persons with disabilities: they are usually not included as participants, let alone as training facilitators. However, this is the status quo that Susi defied.

The devastating event in her home province motivated her to help other persons with disabilities on how to prepare and protect themselves during disasters. She decided to join the DiDRR (Disability Inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction) program, a collaboration between the IDA (International Disability Alliance), CBM (Christoffel Blindenmission), Arbeiter-Samariter-Bund (ASB), CDD (Centre for Disability in Development), and Malteser International. Susi also used her opportunity as the chairwoman of the Indonesian Women with Disabilities Association (HWDI or Himpunan Wanita Disabilitas Indonesia) to support other persons with disabilities to prepare when disaster hits.

Through Her Lenses

It was heartbreaking when Susi visited the Rajabasa coast. She saw the victims who still had their wounds open, and listened to the wrenching stories of the affected families who were separated by the waves. One particular story struck her, of a family that was hit by a giant wave during the tsunami. It left Susi feeling uneasy whenever she saw waves by the beach.

During these visits, she met with more than 50 persons with disabilities in one village in Way Muli, an area in Rajabasa. They are often neglected by the government–so Susi decided to meet the head of the village and the provincial government to help advocate for what these persons with disabilities need–including disaster countermeasures.

“After I finally learned disability inclusive disaster preparedness, I decided to share it with others,” she recounted. “I want to let other communities who are not aware of how they can face disasters. Especially persons with disabilities. We rarely have the knowledge when we’re up against it.”

Her family was the first one whom she shared the knowledge with. She made sure the Disaster Calendar that she got from ASB is hanging on her house’s wall, to inform her family of the signs of disasters that often happen (such as landslides), how to reduce risk and save themselves during earthquakes, and obviously–what to do when they are faced with a tsunami. Slowly but surely, she also shared the calendar with her friends with disabilities, especially during their arisan (meet-ups).

“My friends were thrilled when they got the calendar! They even ask for more than one calendar, to share with their friends,” she said. “The calendar taught them a lot of things–including the 3B (berlutut, berlindung, bertahan sambil berpegangan or drop, cover and hold on)  that we need to do during an earthquake. They even have pictures and comprehensive information on how to do it.” 

Supporting Others

Ever since she visited the tsunami-affected areas back in 2019, Susi made it clear that she wanted to advocate for disaster countermeasures for persons with disabilities. After starting with her inner circle, she finally decided to utilise the HWDI as her platform for disability disaster countermeasures. Initially, HWDI did not have a formal program concerning disasters. That is why she decided to incorporate it during the group’s meetings or arisan.

“We started with the small things (signs of a disaster and how to face it).  I’m afraid if we started with complicated things in the beginning, we wouldn’t be able to adjust to the capacity of our members. Once we know our capacity, we’ll start to find what would be the best way for us to deliver this (disaster preparedness),” shared Susi.

Up until now, Susi said that she managed to share these disability inclusive disaster preparedness activities with around 50 people, through the HWDI arisan in Bandar Lampung, Pringsewu, and Lampung Tengah District. She did not only target the persons with disabilities but also their partners. 

A full-circle moment happened when she was chosen to be one of the facilitators for the DiDDR Program in 2022. The program invited various organisations, including those of people with disabilities. For Susi, facilitating a program about disaster countermeasures is a new experience–especially considering the participants of the program were not only organisations of people with disabilities (OPDs) but also village administrators.

She confessed that she was nervous about facilitating the program. “I am used to helping our friends with disabilities, but never on this topic (disaster preparedness),” she said. “I was supposed to have a partner–but they did not come. I am the type of person who gets nervous when I have to present in front of someone with a higher position”. In Susi’s case, it was the BPBD Lampung Selatan (Local Disaster Management Agency, Badan Penanggulangan Bencana Daerah)–who unsurprisingly was satisfied with her performance anyway.

Not the End

Susi made sure Lampung was not her last stop in her disability inclusive disaster preparedness advocacy efforts. When another earthquake hit Cianjur, a regency in West Java, in 2022, she decided to join ASB to respond to those affected. She spent 10 days in Cianjur, collecting data on persons with disabilities who were affected by the earthquake, while also conducting inclusive rapid assessment on  WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene).

Cianjur was Susi’s first experience of humanitarian response outside of her home province, Lampung. “Honestly, without ASB, I will never know a lot about Cianjur,” she said. She bound a bond so strong with the persons with disabilities in Cianjur during her visit, exchanging stories and experiences, that she is still in contact with them today. 

The visit not only allowed Susi to practise what she learned during her training but also gave her the chance to advocate for the rights of persons with disabilities in the regency. It was there that she found out that people in Cianjur still see persons with disabilities as someone flawed and in distress. This different perspective from where she came from drove her to show that persons with disabilities can also be active partners, not merely some passive, helpless person in distress. 

The effect of the inclusion of persons with disabilities is not only for themselves, but also for their families. “Being involved in these activities is also something that made my kids proud–they see how their parents, someone with disabilities, can be impactful for the community!” she said proudly.

Going forward, Susi hopes these seeds that she and ASB have sown, involving persons with disabilities in disaster reduction and prevention, will be continued and replicated in every corner of the country. Especially considering that according to her, BPBD Lampung Selatan is currently the first and only agency that involves persons with disabilities as facilitators in their disaster preparedness program.

Through simple things, such as sharing in local or friends’ gatherings, Susi was able to slowly add persons with disabilities to the conversations for disaster preparedness. She showed that her willingness to learn, share and support others can generate great impact for her communities. It will not be surprising, if in a few years, persons with disabilities won’t be neglected anymore should disaster hit–they will be more prepared and ready to protect themselves.


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