Faith In International Relief Part Three

Haroon Kash from Islamic Relief continues with comment from his experiences in international relief

The tsunami was probably the most devastating experience that I have had. I arrived in Aceh one week after the disaster and was exposed to the worst destruction I have ever seen.

I saw miles and miles of devastation. Destroyed houses, bridges and roads. Tonnes and tonnes of silt which had been left after the water had retreated. Dead bodies were littered across the region. It amazed me that even in these circumstances people can still honor the dead by shrouding them and laying them out at the sides of the roads. I saw thousands and thousands of “missing persons” posters pasted across walls, lampposts and any available spaces on shop windows. I saw family members desperately scanning these posters looking for their lost ones. I also saw them frantically search through debris and destruction praying they would find their loved ones.

Perhaps the strangest thing I noticed was that people never openly expressed their grief. They didn’t cry or demonstrate hopelessness but were suggesting a sense of having accepted the reality. I found this difficult to fathom and I couldn’t work out the reason why. I suspected their faith had a lot to do with this, but never quite concluded why that was.

The total devastation combined with the untold suffering of the local population pushed my own coping mechanisms to the limit. For many weeks, and months after I had returned home I continued to be affected by the grief and loss.

When I went to Aceh I never expected or thought about how the situation would affect my faith. And in the end it was interaction with the local people that made me address my own beliefs.

Many people who had been affected by the disaster – people who had lost their homes, their loved ones, all their possessions – saw the tsunami as a test. They believed that God was testing the strength of their faith and were therefore steadfast in their beliefs.

I did begin to question why people are forced to endure such suffering. As a Muslim I believe that everything that happens is destined by God and it was something that many people in Aceh also believed. In many ways my faith grew stronger especially when I saw the incredible patience shown by people who had lost everything. The
tsunami showed that humans can show extraordinary amounts of generosity and kindness to fellow humans when they are in need.

With every disaster I respond to, my commitment and belief in my faith deepens. And I become more and more determined to stay committed to the cause of helping others who are not as privileged as me. This is not only something that I find personally rewarding but is also an integral part of my faith.

Haroon Kash is Regional Programme Coordinator for Asia at Islamic Relief and has 12 years experience of working in international development. He worked in Bangladesh after Cyclone Sidr and was Islamic Relief’s Head of Mission in Indonesia after the tsunami.