All of us have moments in our lives that we will never forget. For many Kiwis, it’s the Canterbury earthquake in 2011. For 10-year old Alif from Indonesia, it’s 28 September 2018, along with one other date.
Paralysis in Alif’s legs began when he was a baby and when he was five-months of age his mother noticed that his legs were not moving the way other children’s did. With a mothers love, she patiently cared for him, teaching him how to stand and to, eventually, walk with assistance.
Every day Alif stays at home alone, while his parents are at work and his siblings are at school. Sometimes he plays with other children in the neighbourhood, and when he becomes tired, his friends piggyback him. His toy gun is made from a length of PVC piping. ‘My gun can do long shots’, he says with a shy smile.
On 28 September, the night of the terrifying earthquake and tsunami in Palu, Sulawesi, Alif and his family were at his grandmother’s house praying after the death of his uncle the week before. Alif was inside when suddenly there was an explosion of noise and the house shook violently, thrusting powerfully in every direction and throwing him to the ground. As the earthquake intensified, panicking, everyone ran outside, leaving Alif behind.
‘I was so afraid I couldn’t cry. My body trembled and I couldn’t say a word.’
With the house still shaking, the power out and in the darkness with heart pounding, Alif crawled out using all his strength, dragging his legs and feet behind him. Outside with his family, Alif looked down and was surprised to see he’d taken skin off his feet, but he’d felt no pain as he’d struggled to get out.
Suddenly people started screaming, ‘Big waves are coming!’
In an instant, Alif was hoisted onto his mother’s back and onto a scooter driven by his older brother. Two more people squeezed on the back and they all drove as fast as they could in the blackout to find safety. They nearly fell from the scooter many times, as they moved with a mass of people fleeing for safety on damaged roads, dodging accidents along the way.
Finally, they reached the safety of an evacuation house and joined in prayer with other survivors. Alif gradually began to feel calm again and was able to talk. For children and adults like Alif who have difficulty walking, or can’t see or hear, evacuating to safety during a disaster is a terrifying situation to be in, particularly when everyone else has fled.
While that night will forever be fixed in Alif’s mind, another day will also always be remembered, and not just because it was his birthday.
The next day, on 29 September, Alif and his family were living outside in a tent coping with the aftershocks coming in steady succession, when he was surprised to see a man arrive with something from cbm. Alif’s face lit up as he was given a brand new pair of crutches, but that wasn’t all, cbm had also arranged for Alif to have physiotherapy treatment. His eyes widened and shone with excitement as he heard the news. He eagerly tried out the crutches, hopping along the path. Sitting down again, he held his new crutches on his lap and spoke softly. ‘I really hope everything’s going to be alright in the end.’
We all have moments that are burned into our memories. Two days in this young boy’s life will never be forgotten: the day of the disaster and the day cbm gave him a new pair of crutches.