Tsunami survivor Martunis signs to Sporting Lisbon 11 years after we reunited him with his family
I was lucky enough to meet Martunis back in November, on the tenth anniversary of the devastating 2004 Asian Tsunami. He welcomed me into his home and showed me the beach where he was the moment the Tsunami struck.
He was quiet, polite and hugely determined. Everywhere he went, he carried a football in a bag made out of net, slung across his shoulder – it almost seemed a natural extension of his body.
As soon as we got to the beach, he swiftly pulled the ball out of the bag and started doing endless keep ups, kicking the ball about and showing off his amazing skills.
It was obvious that he was an excellent player and that the sport meant everything to him. His determination to succeed in the game was very obvious.
This week he was unveiled in Portugal as the latest signing of Sporting Lisbon’s famous academy following in the footsteps of his hero Christano Ronaldo who he met in the aftermath of the Tsunami in 2005.
Clinging to life on a tree
Martunis told me that on the morning of Boxing Day 2004, he and his friends saw the huge wave pull back from the shore and dump on the sand.
He ran to find his mother and two sisters who were nearby and they got into a car to escape the water. They were holding hands but the water came up so fast they were ripped apart and swept away.
Martunis clung to a sofa and eventually a tree where he remained for weeks, surviving on packets of dried noodles and bottles of water which floated past.
When the water receded and he was found, he was rushed to hospital. He explained that he was confused at the time and wasn’t clear where his family were or if they’d survived – understandably a terrifying ordeal for any child.
Hundreds of thousands dead
He wasn’t the only one separated from his family or unaccompanied following the massive tsunami. It brought devastation to Sri Lanka, India and Thailand but Indonesia was the worst affected with more than 165,000 people killed or missing.
Around a third of the houses in Aceh, the worst affected region, were flattened or badly damaged. While these have been rebuilt, the emotional scars are still very real.
Save the Children responded to the massive loss and destruction by providing emergency supplies and specialising in child protection. This involved tracing the families of children who were all alone after the tsunami, or taken in by neighbours and family friends.
In Martunis’ case, Save the Children was able to reunite him with his father and grandfather at the hospital where the boy was treated for dehydration.
Muhammad Hatta was one of our child protection workers at the time. He explained that – as with all cases – strict protocol was followed to ensure the man claiming to be Martunis father was indeed who he said he was.
All the evidence matched up and when Hatta reunited the pair, he said they both burst into tears and it was a hugely emotional moment for all involved. Even he and the nurses had tears in their eyes.
Reuniting traumatised children with their genuine family members is a priority for our teams after any natural disaster or conflict. This is especially important because children without a parent or guardian to protect them are at heightened risk of being trafficked or forced into sexual exploitation.
Keeping children safe
Whenever a disaster hits, Save the Children’s priority is erecting big white tents known as ‘child friendly spaces’ and putting the systems in place to manage cases of separated and unaccompanied children.
We’re determined to make the system as effective as possible and we’ve been in pilots with partner organisations to trial innovations including new databases for case management and using mobile phones to reunite families as swiftly as possible and when separated by long distances, which can happen when flood water from typhoons or tsunamis physically pulls families apart.
Protecting vulnerable children so they can find their families, overcome trauma and make the most of their futures is at the heart of what we do.
Martunis is a shining example of this and has proved what can be achieved through courage and determination. We are all very proud to have been part of his incredible story and wish him the best for his new career at Sporting Lisbon academy.
Help us react quickly when disaster strikes: please donate to our Emergency Fund