—- In December of 2004, one of the worst natural disasters in history overwhelmed the coasts of several countries in the Indian Ocean. Within hours of the initial earthquake, 230,000 people lost their lives in the ensuing tsunami. The hardest hit area was Aceh, the western-most province of Indonesia where over 175,000 people perished along the shores.
Are you still able to picture the cities decimated by the relentless wall of water?
As each day passed and news crews from around the world returned home, the Indonesian survivors were soon forgotten. Even though the world was blanketed by coverage of the staggering emotional and physical carnage left by the tsunami, little recent coverage has reflected the stories of rebuilding, resilience, and the power of the human spirit to overcome.
So ask yourself… what do you know about Aceh today?
Closer to home, have you followed the rebuilding that has followed Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans?
If Katrina was too long ago, what do you know about the people who survived the decimation caused by the tornado in Joplin, Missouri in May of this year?
As fresh images of human remains and wide-spread destruction overwhelm television screens around the world, older stories of rebuilding and resilience are pushed from the prevailing media spotlight in exchange for fresh stories. They are purged from the world’s conscience out of compassion fatigue.
For their Young Explorers Grant from the National Geographic Society the team will photographically document the changes in cultural and physical geography since the 2004 tsunami in Banda Aceh, Indonesia.
Chris and Becca are collaborating with contributing National Geographic photographer, James Balog, founder of the Extreme Ice Survey and Earth Vision Trust. Balog originally traveled to Aceh three weeks after the tsunami to capture the massive destruction and hardships being endured. With his permission and encouragement, the team has chosen a number of Balog’s photographs that they will recreate as a measurement of the changes that have occurred since the tsunami.
On-the-ground information and a review of Google Earth images indicate that there has been dramatic recovery of both the human and the physical landscape during the past six years. The new photographs to will provide important insight to an in-depth inquiry of the unexplored rebuilding process in Aceh, uncovering the resilient human spirit such disasters reveal.
With the information acquired through this project, Chris and Becca have been instructed by The National Geographic Society to produce a multimedia story (photos, videos, written story, etc.) for publication reflecting their findings in the field. The team also plans to demonstrate their discoveries through the use of multimedia presentations upon their return.
Throughout the past seven years, few media stories have investigated the culturally significant rebuilding process in Indonesia, implying societal restoration is less substantial than the initial disaster. The team believes this process and the stories of human resilience expressed by members of Aceh society are very relevant in a changing, increasingly connected world. As our climate becomes less predictable, natural disasters like the 2004 tsunami, hurricane Katrina in 2005, and the 2011 earthquake in Japan, are examples of the destruction possible to the densely populated coastal regions of the world.
This project will serve as a reminder to the world’s conscience that our compassion for those affected by a disaster should not dwindle as media coverage fades. Instead, it should intensify the realization that the post-catastrophe period is the time when the most help can be given.
Their discoveries will broaden worldly understandings while inspiring collective concern for cultural recovery following devastating natural disasters. They expect their imagery and supporting media story to be a powerful tribute to the resilience of the human spirit and the natural world. It will be a celebration of the remarkable “good” that people can accomplish, with the help of donor nations, when they set their minds to a seemingly insurmountable task. In addition to this, the team expects to walk away from the opportunity with the ability to make the stories of survivors heard.
Thanks to support from the National Geographic Society, The University of Wyoming, Camelbak, and other generous, greatly appreciated donors, the team departs for Indonesia on Tuesday, July 2011.
This blog has been created to keep friends, family, sponsors, and other interested supporters up-to-date on our journey.
Thanks again for your support!
Chris and Becca