Avengers to the rescue: Volunteers educate Indonesians on disaster preparedness

Avengers to the rescue: Volunteers educate Indonesians on disaster preparedness

Indonesia's Avengers
The "Avengers" are a group of Indonesian volunteers who support the West Java Disaster and Mitigation Agency. (Photo: Kiki Siregar)

LEMBANG, West Java: “Quick, quick, quick! Cover your head, quick!” Mr Tamim Suherman told his audience, as he ducked and put his hands on his head. 

The 70-year-old was conducting a drill and teaching a group of housewives what they should do in the event of an earthquake on Tuesday (Aug 20) at a local village.

He is part of a volunteer group called the Avengers, which assists the West Java Disaster and Mitigation Agency to educate villages on disaster preparedness, and participates in search and rescue teams during emergencies.

The Avengers conduct a simulation
The  Avengers conducting an earthquake drill with villagers in Lembang. (Photo: Kiki Siregar)

A couple of villagers founded the group in 2016 after attending a briefing hosted by the agency.

At that briefing, they learned that even though Indonesia is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world, people are not well informed and often do not know how to react during emergencies.

READ: Five dead, several injured after powerful quake rocks Indonesia

The Avengers want to play a part in spreading awareness. They visit schools and communities and engage the locals on the appropriate response to various disasters - floods, earthquakes, landslides, and even volcanic eruptions.

“We decided to go with the name because the Avengers are superheroes who are strong and always ready to lend a helping hand,” head of the group Mr Yana Mulyana said.

It currently has 15 members aged between 35 and 70. They are on standby 24/7 and will spring into action when duties call, sometimes outside of West Java.

READ: Meet the volcano chaser documenting Indonesia’s volatile craters

FUN APPROACHES TO EDUCATE THE LOCALS

Indonesian is often hit by earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, volcanic eruptions, landslides and also cyclones.

In the last 30 years, the government has recorded about 300 natural disasters per year with the average annual death toll of around 8,000.

A soldier walks past a mosque while accompanying a search team in the Petobo neighbourhood which wa
A soldier walks past a mosque while accompanying a search team in the Petobo neighbourhood which was hit by an earthquake and liquefaction in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia on October 10, 2018. (Photo: Reuters/Darren Whiteside) 

Last year saw Indonesia’s deadliest year in a decade, with at least 4,231 people killed or declared missing during natural disasters, official data showed.  

As of May this year, the archipelago has already witnessed more than 1,900 disasters which caused about 350 deaths.

Lembang, where Mr Suherman and his team visited on Tuesday, lies on the Lembang fault line. It is also near Mount Tangkuban Perahu, which erupted a couple of weeks ago.

Tangkuban Perahu volcano
Mount Tangkuban Perahu volcano erupting on July 26, 2019. (Photo: Twitter/BNPB_Indonesia)

Wearing black shirts adorned with the word “Avengers”, the volunteers taught the villagers catchy songs with lyrics on what to do when an earthquake strikes.

If their audience is school children, they play games designed to teach about safe places to hide during earthquakes.

READ: Tsunami warning as powerful quake hits southwest Indonesia

The fun, light-hearted approach is not only enjoyable for the audience, but to the volunteers as well.

“I joined the Avengers to keep myself busy and happy, so I don’t grow old quickly,” Mr Suherman said.

Another Avenger, Mr Endang Hidayat, is a retired driver who is passionate about his involvement in the group.

“It’s better for me to help people who need us than doing nothing at home. Even though we don’t receive a penny, it’s okay,” the 69-year-old said.   

Indonesian Avengers educate villagers about disaster preparedness
The Indonesian "Avengers" educate villagers on disaster preparedness. (Photo: Kiki Siregar)

Villager Mdm Elis Juliah, 35, one of the housewives attending the Tuesday event, found the information shared by the group useful.

“I hope when disaster happens, everyone is safe. I hope my families and neighbours survive the disaster,” she said.

"WE'RE READY TO SAVE PEOPLE"

However, not everyone sees the value in the work of the Avengers as the group sometimes find itself engaging a disinterested crowd.

Mdm Teti Hidayati, one of the team, said: “Sometimes, there are people who appreciate us, but sometimes there are some who say, ‘Well, let’s think about things like this later.’ That happens very often.”

But they choose to remain positive as they believe their work is meaningful.

READ: Floods in Indonesia kill dozens, thousands displaced

Indonesia's Avengers are examining an evacuation map
The "Avengers" use materials such as posters in their presentation. (Photo: Kiki Siregar) 

Mr Hidayat said he felt immense joy when they get involved in search missions and succeeded in rescuing victims, as what happened in a recent landslide in West Java.

“I’m not young anymore … Sometimes I wonder whether I’ve still got enough energy to help victims during a disaster.

“But when I work with my colleagues and we manage to find the victims, I’m happy,” he said.

Concurring, Mr Suherman said the Avengers will always be there for the needy.

“We’re ready to save people,” he said.     

Source: CNA/ks

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