One man's mission to bring relief to cut-off villages
Galvanized by images of the disaster, Sam Schultz bought a plane ticket, hired a boat and crew, and was soon sailing down Indonesia's Sumatran coast to help survivors.
With binoculars pressed to his eyes, Sam Schultz stands at the captain's helm of the Sumber Rejeki Baru, a 100-ft. cargo boat bobbing off the coast of Sumatra. For several hours, the vessel has coasted alongside a mist-kissed rainforest - a paradise stained at its base by a 30-foot-highring of barren earth.Skip to next paragraph
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Hundreds of miles of shoreline have been denuded; only a brownish brine is left. A coastal road has been scraped away, and palm trees and bridges clog beaches.
"This is unbelievable," says Mr. Schultz, a onetime Californian who has lived in Bali for 20 years. "A month ago, this was a shoreline of thriving communities, boats, villages, and fishermen. Now ... nothing."
Schultz is a regular guy: husband, father of two, businessman, history buff. But the cargo on his boat - buckets filled with hammers and saws, stacks of corrugated roofing, food, and toys - tells the story of how the steely housing contractor, galvanized by the devastation on TV - transformed himself into a kind of archangel of aid. A veteran of aid missions - East Timor, Guatemala, Nepal - he says the current need is "greater than any I have seen in our lifetimes."
Putting his own time and money on the line, intercepting and coordinating other Good Samaritans, Schultz and a handful of others have tackled the improbable and the impossible to provide immediate assistance to Sumatran villages that have lost their traditional sources of food and supplies and are difficult to reach by air.
For the team on the Sumber Rejeki Baru, that meant taking on the role of a marine-based search-and-rescue team - charitable entrepreneurs who can move nimbly while the giant aid groups got into gear.
"This is one of the really amazing stories of how people from all kinds of organizations all over the world have come together to come up with unusual solutions ... to fill immediate needs," says Bettina Luescher, spokeswoman in Banda Aceh for the World Food Program, the largest provider of food relief in the world. "These people are the crucial link at the crucial stage, doing what the larger organizations are just not yet set up to do."
Just minutes after watching pictures of the tsunami, Schultz got on the phone. First he called friends ("What should we do?"), then a local aid organization ("I'm ready if you need me").
Then he bought a plane ticket - along with his best friend, Lee - to Padang, a small town on the East coast of Sumatra.
A "people person" who speaks fluent Indonesian, and self-professed "pushy guy who gets what I want, and I want to help," Schultz, along with his pal, began buying 6-1/2-gallon buckets. With a dozen volunteers from a hotel in Padang, they filled them one by one: tarpaulin, cooking pot, oil, soap, saw, axe. ("I know what people who have lost everything need," he says.)
While looking for a way to transport these kits to devastated areas, Schultz met two representatives from AUSAID, the Australian aid agency, at a local bar. Teaming up, the trio flew a quick reconnaissance mission north to Sibolga, looking for a place to bring in deliveries. No good: bad roads, inaccessible airport, no goods on the ground to buy.
Next, Schultz tried to find local operators with a boat big enough to carry hundreds of tons of cargo but small enough to get into tiny, possibly damaged ports.
On the river in Padang, he spotted his quarry: the Sumber Rejeki Baru, ready with Indonesian captain and a crew of 14. Price: 60 million rupiah (about $6,000 US) per week. Contracting the boat in the name of AUSAID and IDEP, an Indonesian aid group, the foursome spent two days filling it with anything they could buy, requisition, or scrounge: nearly 800 lbs. of medicine, tons of rice, tools. With funding from IDEP, Bali friends, and Schultz's own wallet - about $40,000 total - the group began a series of trips up and down the coast.
On his first voyage, Schultz took five colleagues from Bali, three doctors, three Indonesian nurses and two volunteers.
They visited several small villages, taking a small dinghy ashore to locate and talk to local Indonesian military officials about casualties and to assess needs. The crew settled on the final destination of Calang (pronounced Chalang) - a town of 14,000 that lost all but about 3,500 residents.
On board for Schultz's first voyage was Stefan Zawada, a Polish chef, motorcycle buff, and Rotary Club member from Bali who had done similar work in Yugoslavia. The Rotary Club and his restaurant, Pergola, are supporting his mission. "They need help, man," he says. "We are showing our fellow human beings that we care.... We might need help someday and maybe it will come back. If not, it's worthwhile anyway."