Stories of Change

Stofan and his son hang out on the porch of their T-shelter.

For disaster survivors, transitional shelter and a bit of hope

September 28, 2018 started out as a normal Friday for Stofan. It wasn’t a workday, so he played a game of football with some friends and spent some quality time with his older son.

That evening, though, the day turned into a nightmare. The earth shook, and the land moved. A devastating earthquake struck, followed by a tsunami.

Luckily, Stofan was close to home when the quake hit. He was able to reach his wife and 1-year-old son, and he got his whole family to safety. Sadly, many others weren’t so lucky.

When the disasters were over, nothing was left of the village where the family lived. Stofan, his family and their neighbors lived under plastic tarps in a temporary camp. In order to have some privacy, Stofan salvaged some of the debris from his destroyed house and built a shelter. It was cramped and unbearably hot. Somehow, though, Stofan remained positive. “There are other people who lost their families,” he says. “I only lost my home. My family is still here, so I am lucky and blessed.”

CWS has been helping in this part of Indonesia since the disasters in September, delivering supplies and using a fleet of trucks to get water to tens of thousands of people each day. In February, we expanded the response to help communities build transitional shelters, or t-shelters. T-shelters are meant to be an in-between step for families like Stofan’s. They are sturdier and more substantial than tents and tarps, and families can move into them while they continue to hope for new, permanent houses.

Stofan stepped up to learn how to build the T-shelters. During the training course, he learned what he would need to build his own shelter and to help others. One day he admitted, “I never thought I would have a place to call home again. We don’t have savings, and after the disaster I lost my job as a handyman in Palu. I have many people depending on me: my wife and kids, my parents and my wife’s parents, too. The money we have is barely enough to get by day to day.”

Like so many of the other families left homeless by the disasters, Stofan’s family can’t afford to build a new house. That’s why these T-shelters are such a blessing; they mean a dignified and more comfortable home. Stofan built a shelter for his family through the program. He did such a great job with it that he became a construction group leader. Once he finished his shelter, he monitored others’ construction. Today, his family is living in a standard T-shelter, and he added a kitchen by using salvaged remains from his old home.

In reflecting on the months since that awful day in September, Stofan says, “I learned a lot, including new carpentry skills, which I can use to help others. Having CWS staff on hand to help us is good, too.” For as much as he’d rather the disaster had never happened, he does recognize this small silver lining that he has new skills that he can use in the future to provide for his family.

In recent months, dozens of community members and builders from six villages have learned to build t-shelters. We have supported 220 T-shelters in one of the hardest-hit areas around Palu. More than 100 other T-shelters are now under construction.