Sat, 12 Mar 2005

Women help build houses in Aceh

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

To coincide with International Women's Day, the world's largest professional women's organization, the Soroptimist club, launched a program to build hundreds of houses in a village in the tsunami-hit Aceh province to help ease the burden of the survivors.

"Soroptimist International of Jakarta (SIJ) hopes to be able to provide assistance in the form of rebuilding 200 houses, 36 square meters in size," Lily Kasoem, the project director for Rebuilding Lamreh Village (RLV), on Tuesday.

SIJ, an Indonesian branch of Soroptimist International, initiated the RLV project in January and since then has been gathering international support, including obtaining the approval of the Aceh administration to build the houses.

The project will be officially inaugurated on March 11 in a ground-breaking ceremony, which will be attended by Coordinating Minister of People's Welfare Alwi Shihab.

Soroptimist is an organization aiming to encourage women to serve their community. The name derives from the Latin words soror (sister) and optima (the best), and thus means "women at their best, helping others to be their best".

To date, the organization has collected US$435,000 of the total of $800,000 needed to finance the program. The money has come from 11 donor organizations, which have already pledged to support the project. Some of the largest donors included the Netherlands Red Cross, the Women's International Club, the New Zealand International Aid Agency, Oxfam and PriceWaterhouseCooper.

The organization chose Lamreh village because it has the largest number of survivors compared to other villages in Aceh Besar regency, where 1,000 people survived and 70 were killed, but 80 percent of the houses were damaged.

Aside from providing houses, the SIJ also planned to build one primary school, a community health clinic, a community hall, wells to supply clean water, sanitation and electrical infrastructure in the village.

In order to garner more financial support, the SIJ organized a benefit luncheon at the Hotel Le Meridien on Monday afternoon, which was attended by 200 guests, mostly expatriates. Each guest paid Rp 150,000 as a donation to the program. Overall, they collected more than Rp 100 million as many donated more than the Rp 150,000.

Canadian ambassador Randolph Mank attended the luncheon and was mentioned by SIJ members as one of the sponsors for the gathering, together with the Hotel Le Meridien.

"This is an organization which consists of fewer than 20 women who want to help the victims of the natural disaster and they have shown me their capacity to help the Acehnese. We should support them -- women are good about bringing people back together in the disaster area. That's why I support Soroptimist," Mank said on the sidelines of the luncheon.

Lily Kasoem, who is also known as the owner of a chain of eyeglasses shops of the same name throughout Greater Jakarta, said that this project would also serve to convey a message to women across the world.

"Small groups of women can make a difference, so start helping the Acehnese to help," Lily, one of the 19 members of SIJ, implored. (006)