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More than a decade on, families in Indonesia still live with the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami. We opened three new Villages to care for children orphaned by the disaster. Today, we help families in eight locations provide a safe, stable upbringing for their children, and care for children with no-one else. … more about our charity work in Indonesia

Asian tsunami 2004: Survivors' stories

The tsunami claimed over a quarter of a million lives, but there are also many survival stories to celebrate
The tsunami claimed over a quarter of a million lives, but there are also many survival stories to celebrate

The Boxing Day tsunami claimed over a quarter of a million lives and caused widespread destruction to coastal communities. But there are many inspiring survival stories as well. Here, we introduce some of the children and families who are flourishing today thanks to our supporters.

The worst effects of the tsunami were felt in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand, though the wave claimed lives as far afield as Somalia. On top of the huge death toll, over 1.7 million were forced from home in the hardest-hit countries. Our supporters have helped many find a home.

On this page:

  • Indonesia: Putri, who was born on a rooftop as the tsunami raged below
  • India: Dhanalakshmi, who cares for tsunami survivors at Nagapattinam Village
  • Sri Lanka: Malani and Ishan, who were separated in the chaos

Indonesia: Born amid the waves

Putri was born on the day of the tsunami
Putri was born on a rooftop as the tsunami raged below
The village of Gampong Cot was almost washed away by the tsunami. It lies in the Indonesian province of Aceh, one of the areas worst-affected by the disaster. Ibu was heavily pregnant in December 2004.

On the morning of Boxing Day, Ibu was cleaning her little wooden cottage when she saw the wave approaching. She fled inland, desperately trying to outpace the waves, but they were too fast for her. In the end, there was nothing for it but to scramble up a tree and onto the roof of the nearest building; the local mosque. When the wave hit, seconds later, the water almost reached Ibu's rooftop sanctuary.

A few hours later, Ibu went into labour. Right there, on top of the mosque, she was forced to deliver her own baby; a little girl, born healthy in spite of her mother's ordeal.

Later that day, when the waters had receded, Ibu set off in search of medical help; her new baby wrapped in a fisherman's carrier bag. That night, she was reunited with her husband Adnan, only to find that he hadn't been able to save their two older children from the wave. They called their new daughter “Putri Sunami Irayana”: “big wave girl”.

Ibu, Adnan and baby Putri were one of many families to benefit from an emergency home building project carried out by SOS Children in the devastated village of Gampong Cot. Their little home has a blue roof, a small covered terrace and its own vegetable garden. It is a safe distance from the coast; far enough to reassure Ibu, who fears the sea to this day.

Sadly, Adnan died a few years later; succumbing to an infection probably brought on by swallowing contaminated water during the tsunami. But Ibu and Putri live there still. Today, they are happy in their new home, and make regular visits to the SOS Social Centre, where they benefit from education, healthcare, counselling and help with income generation; all thanks to the kindness of SOS supporters around the world.

India: “Today I feel no fear”

SOS mother Dhanalakshmi from Nagapattinam Village in India
Here, Dhanalakshmi cares for tsunami survivors at Nagapattinam Village in India
In the aftermath of the tsunami, SOS Children took in thousands of children separated from their parents. In time, it became clear that many would never be reunited. We opened six new Children's Villages to provide a new home for those unable to return to their families. Dhanalakshmi is one of the SOS mothers providing care at India's Nagapattinam Village.

“At first, the children were lost in their thoughts, especially Alisha,” she says. 15-year-old Alisha's memory of Boxing Day 2004 remains vivid, and her recollection chilling. “We had gone to visit our grandmother, who lived very near the beach. We were playing outside in the morning when the tsunami hit. People started running away and my grandmother picked us up and ran towards a temple. We cried all the way to the temple; we saw many dead bodies... Only later we were told that our mother and younger brother had died in the tsunami.”

Their home destroyed, Alisha and her surviving brother lived in a temporary shelter until we provided them with a safe haven at Nagapattinam Village. It has taken her the best part of a decade to overcome the trauma of that day, but she has got there with the help of her SOS mother. “Earlier when I used to see the sea, I would get scared, but today I feel no fear at all,” she says.

Children like Alisha have also benefited from an ongoing programme of support at the Children's Village, from counselling to build coping strategies, to less conventional techniques such as play, dance and music.

Sri Lanka: Reunuited against the odds

Ishan and SOS mother Malani
Ishan and his SOS mother have always been close, but the tsunami brought them even closer
14-year-old Ishan has lived at Monaragala Village in Sri Lanka since he was six days old. He and his SOS mother, Malani, have always been close, but the events of Boxing Day 2004 brought them even closer.

Malani begins the story: “I was taking four-year-old Ishan to my own home in Tangakke... when our bus was engulfed with water near Hambantota. I remember screaming and swallowing water. I was holding Ishan but then I lost consciousness.”

Upon regaining consciousness at the hospital, Malani realised that she and Ishan had been separated. As any mother can imagine, Malani was frantic with worry.

The Village Director immediately organised a search party. He asked her to return to the Children's Village, but Malani was distraught: “I decided if Ishan wasn't found I would never return.”

Amazingly, Ishan was found, confused and half-naked in the children's ward of the same hospital. “He was in shock and for a long time he couldn't bear to hear the word ‘Hambantota’. He would not allow me out of his sight.”

Ishan has done well since the tsunami, and his memories of that day are fading. Ask him about Malani and he'll grin and tell you he's mum's favourite. “I feel happy to have a mother like her, to stay with her... She helps me with my studies so that I do well and she's there for me always. She loves me a lot.”

Asian tsunami: 10 years on

Find out more about the events of Boxing Day 2004 and learn how our supporters have helped the worst-affected rebuild their lives:

  • See the relief effort unfold: Our interactive timeline takes you through all the key events, from the day itself to the relief work which followed.

A decade on, families are returning to normality, but new disasters strike all the time, and children are often the hardest hit. Today, we are appealing for your support to help children affected by the Ebola crisis which continues to ravage West Africa. Find out more...

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