A recipe for success after tsunami

BANDA ACEH: Ibu Rosmani looks around at the chickens, ducks and goats in her yard as if she cannot quite believe what she's saying.

''After the tsunami, there were about 50 people living here. And they stayed for a year,'' she says.

Rosmani lives in a suburb of Banda Aceh that was untouched by the devastating wave, but hundreds of her extended family died and many of the survivors, some injured, some wearing only a sarong or their underwear, sought refuge with her.

They slept on mats on the dirt floor among the tall stumps holding up the traditional wooden house.

Some were too afraid to go upstairs lest another earthquake collapse the building around them.

Earthquakes are a constant reality, though few are as powerful as the one that rocked Aceh last week.


But family ties are also powerful, and people immediately look to these when devastation strikes.

Rosmani tells how they eked out the food, killing perhaps one chicken a day for everyone, and eating bananas and rice by the sack.

Now, though, seven years after those awful events, Rosmani can see the bright side. For one thing it brought husbands for two of her daughters. For another, it brought aid in the form of micro-finance loans from an Australian-funded program that have allowed her to set up a now thriving business.

Immediately after the tsunami, the aid task was to rebuild the hard infrastructure of the province, and to feed and house its 400,000 surviving citizens. Seven years later, the task is to bring a decent standard of living.

In the year after the tsunami, with the help of the ablest of her dozens of house guests, Rosmani began improving her business of roasting, drying and pressing coconut flesh to make a paste, kalapa gouseng, a secret ingredient in Acehnese food.

''If all those people didn't help, they would not have enough food,'' she said.

Three years ago she became the beneficiary of Australian aid money in the form of a loan of 3 million rupiah ($316). She used it to buy coconuts in bulk. The extra big order reduced her costs, increasing her profits, allowing her to reinvest.

''The money just revolved and revolved and got larger,'' she says.

Now, three loans later, she buys coconuts by the truckload, employs three people and makes up to 50 kilograms of the paste a day to sell to market stallholders or directly to restaurants. She also sells the husks to burn in the region's ubiquitous barbecues.

Through the micro-finance provider, she and 42 fellow businesswomen have formed a ''KSM'', or self-help group, which imposes saving rules on the members and is accumulating enough assets to begin acting like a micro-finance bank for saving and lending.

According to AusAID, this is one of 84 KSMs in nine districts helping almost 1700 people, mostly women.

The Australian aid program puts $1.7 million a year into micro-finance, which helps people like Rosmani with training, business management and technical skills. More than 1870 poor households have had their income increased as a result.

Rosmani is going into marketing, helping a friend sell her kalapa gouseng more profitably.

''Before the tsunami nobody came here. Now look at us,'' she says.