Cheerful colors reflect new hope for earthquake victims in Indonesia

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The 2006 earthquake killed Tito Judi's adopted son and destroyed his house. He feels the cheerful colors of his new home help to lift his spirits.

On an early morning in 2006, an earthquake struck Special Province of Yogyakarta and Central Java in Indonesia. The place, known for its heritage, culture, scenery and humble life of its people, was devastated. The 6.2 Ricther Scale quake killed about 5,700 people and left more than 150,000 families homeless and 50,000 injured. But given the many life hardships that most of people have had to face since losing their homes and loved ones from the disaster, beneficiaries of the Java Reconstruction Fund (JRF) – managed by the World Bank – seem to have beaten the odds and have since long moved on with their lives.

What I found most interesting during my visits to the locations is the sense of style and creativity of the house owners.  Especially in the villages of Bantul, Yogyakarta – the hardest struck area – people can easily identify houses that were funded by JRF through the outstandingly colored, newly constructed houses, painted in cheerful tints of pink, yellow, green, blue, red, or somewhere in between.  How it all started was never revealed, but it seems everyone wanted to get away from the conservative colors of white, crème and grey.

Sabdodadi village dusun Dukuh resident, Heri Pranoto, 51, said the colorful houses were a clear sign of change from the past.  Heri, who became limp after the walls from his former house crumbled on him, paralyzing his back and right leg, said that the 'trend' is quite different from the past, when the colors of houses were in the boring colors of white or cream. With a bright smile he said brighter colors reflect new hope, that devastation makes them stronger and look forward for a better future.

A friend, Chris Tumbelaka, also met up with a few beneficiaries.  She recalled Tito Judi, 47 of Sitimulyo, dusun (sub-village) Padangan village, as the owner of the house with the most cheerful colors. His hometown folks called his house a kindergarten. He was so proud to be the center of attention.  If there's a contest, he will sign up and likely win the most creative beneficiary and the most artistic house awards.

Tito said he bought paints of five different colors – red, white, blue, green and yellow – and mixed them to get the right shade. He certainly had fun playing with the paints.

He has lived in his new house since early 2008. He lives there alone. Sadly, he has lost his adopted son in the earthquake that also shattered his former house. His wife fell ill and died in June 2007 – a year after the earthquake. He feels that the cheerful colors help to lift up his spirit.

In the villages of Bantul, Yogyakarta – the hardest struck area – people painted newly constructed houses in cheerful tints of pink, yellow, green, blue, red, or somewhere in between.
Of course, choosing colors is never easy if you have a family. Unlike Tito, Heri admitted he could not always have the colors he really wanted for his house. He had to argue with his teenage children first.  They finally agreed: his teenagers can paint their bedrooms as they like, while he has the living room to play with. His choice of color was dark orange. Still, to the protest of his children, who accused him of being "untrendy," Heri also decided to plaster his veranda with green tiles usually used for bathroom walls. "Let them protest, I don't care," he said.

Heri thinks another reason the houses in his village and neighboring villages are colorful is that it was just a natural consequence of people bartering paints. Since they couldn't buy many colors at once, they bartered said Heri.

Like the often told stories of many other Java Reconstruction Fund beneficiaries, the Fund's stimulant fund of Rp20 million (less than US$ 2,000) for each eligible family was actually never enough for rebuilding a house to the full completion. Yet, they still had to make do with it by working in groups and by mutually managing its use.

Some of them, for example, reused materials of their old houses. Many of them reused materials such as window frames and bricks in the new houses. This helped lower construction cost and even gave them the chance to have a bigger house.

In the case of Tito's house, wood frames of doors and windows, are quite unique from his previous house, were re-used in the new structure.  He has sparked up quite a stylish look indeed.


Nia Sarinastiti

Multi-Donor Fund - Indonesia

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