Marlina’s story: How your help transformed a life

Melanie Brooks
Marlina with CARE's Melanie Brooks in Jantho Aceh Besar Indonesia in October 2014

I can’t stop staring at the girl sitting in front of me. I can’t help it. Today is Marlina’s 12th birthday. When I first met her in Aceh, Indonesia, after the tsunami, she was two years old, and she was dying.

Critically malnourished, she weighed barely half what she should. In the days after the tsunami, her mother, Nuraisyah, wasn’t able to get enough vegetables and protein to feed her, so little Marlina was losing weight. Her mother was terrified.

Marlina being fed high energy milk to treat malnutrition in the aftermath of the tsunami © CARE

Marlina being fed high energy milk to treat malnutrition in the aftermath of the tsunami

“I remember when we first met,” Nuraisyah tells me now, in the safety of her new home. “Marlina was so sick. I was so sad, and so scared. We were living in tents. Will she be cured or not? And I thought the worst – what if she died? Then after meeting with the doctor from CARE and Marlina got treatment, gradually I gained hope for her recovery, and bit by bit, she got better.”

Marlina today aged 12 © CARE / Josh Estey

Marlina today aged 12

Today, Marlina is a soft-spoken but confident girl, second in her class and with plans to become a teacher. She straightens her shoulders, and practises her English with me: “What is your name? My name is Marlina,” she says in a clear, sing-song voice, then collapses into giggles and covers her mouth with her hand.

I can’t believe that this is the same frail, sick little girl I met almost 10 years ago. But since I first met Marlina and Nuraisyah, I’ve also seen them move forward. In 2005, I ran into Marlina by chance as she was playing with other children at a CARE psychosocial activity for children to help them cope with the trauma of the tsunami. And a year after that, I visited them in their transitional home in Jantho where they were waiting for their permanent home to be completed.

Marlina Melanie and Nuraisyah © CARE / Josh Estey

Marlina Melanie and Nuraisyah

Today, we’re sitting in the family’s home that was built by CARE. Just this year, they finished an extension on the back of the house: a bright, lofty kitchen with high ceilings and a smooth cement floor. Bags of rice from Nuraisyah’s recent harvest are stacked neatly beside the wall. Outside, life goes on in a busy little community of tidy streets and identical houses built by CARE for tsunami survivors who lost their homes.

“Things are better now. Life is normal. My family is all here. If someone asks us where we live, we say ‘CARE housing’, and everyone knows it. It’s the name of our neighbourhood now,” she says, and the family members and neighbours who are sitting around her all laugh and nod.

This, almost more than anything I’ve seen in my 11 years with CARE, is what we are here to do: we save lives in emergencies, but we also help families recover, so they can send their children to school, go back to work, and make plans for the future.

“Once in a while, we remember the tsunami,” Nuraisyah says softly. “But mostly, we don’t think of it, because we can’t change it. But we can be grateful for what we have.”

Melanie Brooks's picture

Melanie Brooks is Head of Global Communications for CARE International