Perry in tsunami’s wake

Dea and Peter Perry will help tsunami victims. - TINA LIEU/Staff Photo
Dea and Peter Perry will help tsunami victims.
— image credit: TINA LIEU/Staff Photo

The islander will head to Indonesia to assist victims of the devastating waves.

Islander Peter Perry, who spent two decades working in Indonesia, is leaving for the disaster-ravaged city of Banda Aceh on Friday to deliver humanitarian aid.

Perry will work in Indonesia’s most devastated city, where an estimated 100,000 people perished in the massive earthquake and tsunami Dec. 26. Located on the island of Sumatra, Banda Aceh was the city closest to the earthquake’s epicenter.

His goal is to focus on the welfare of Indonesian children, many of whom lost parents in the disaster and are now wandering amid the death and wreckage without food or water.

“Parents worldwide share the same cares and needs – they love their families, want their kids to get an education,” Perry said. “For the children who have survived in Sumatra, we cannot now fill the void of missing parents, but we can help to see that some part of those parents’ dreams for their children can still come true.”

He is steeling himself for the enormity of the devastation.

“I doubt if anyone can be prepared to witness disaster without some deep emotional response,” Perry said. “During my past work in Indonesia, I have experienced the sadness of seeing children suffering from preventable diseases. My best plan of action is to work within the guidelines of the teams in place, focusing on the job at hand.”

Perry has made arrangements to work with Budi Atmani, the head of Indonesia’s Operation Team for National Disaster Relief. Knowing the Indonesian culture and language, he plans to use a satellite phone to communicate the most pressing needs of Sumatra’s people to overseas relief agencies and to his wife, Dea, who is coordinating a fund-raising effort on Bainbridge Island.

“There just aren’t enough hands to help, and Peter has got such great expertise,” Dea Perry said. “As soon as we heard the news, Peter said, ‘I gotta go. And then I said, ‘I gotta go.’ And then we said, ‘We both can’t go,’ because we have an 8-year-old son,” Ricky, a student at Ordway.

It was decided that Peter would go. Son Ricky declined to make the trip, telling his dad, “I would go with you, Dad, but I don’t want to get all those shots.”

“Peter speaks the language, knows the culture and religion, and he’s good at getting people together,” Dea Perry said. “He was the most valuable player. We couldn’t just sit and watch the news. We are action people.”

Peter Perry is scheduled to arrive in Banda Aceh next Saturday. He expects to be used as a translator, and also to be called upon for mundane but critically important tasks, such as reading the English labels on boxes of medical supplies to Indonesia relief workers.

“I have never worked in a disaster, but I have spent a lot of time in the remote areas,” said Perry, a native of Australia who worked there in the 1970s and 1980s, developing the first international surfing contest in Indonesia, and later advising the government’s Export Development Council. In 1998 he returned to Sumatra to work on the production of the Sony Pictures film, “In God’s Hands.”

“It’s a very mountainous region, with very narrow river valleys going down to the beaches, and that is where some of the very poorest people are,” he said, noting that helicopters are currently being used to get some of the stranded out of there.

Complicating matters, he said, “the monsoons have arrived, and things there will get increasingly complex as the rains increase.”

As word of Peter Perry’s trip has spread, islanders have funneled more than $10,000 toward his mission, which will last three to four weeks.

In response, he and his wife have formed the Bainbridge Island-Sumatra Tsunami Relief Fund at American Marine Bank. The couple hopes to acquire non-profit status.

They forsee the island contributing to Sumatra’s immediate disaster needs now, and later to its long-term reconstruction, establishing a long-term relationship like that between Bainbridge and the Nicaraguan island of Ometepe.

The couple has been speaking to various community groups around town about their efforts, picking up deflated soccer balls, harmonicas and toothbrushes for children along the way. Since Peter Perry can only take a backpack and one bag, he can only carry a few things, and he wants them to provide some joy in the lives of the children he meets on his journey.

“Given all the blessings children in our community enjoy, we feel compelled to extend those blessings to children who now have nothing,” Peter said. “Everyone we speak with about our mission shares the desire to help, especially in a way that is so closely connected to this community. Our work represents the people of Bainbridge in action.”

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