A woman who moved to Indonesia after spending most of her life in the Middle East has found herself helping to coordinate the country’s earthquake relief effort as the death toll continues to rise.
British expat Robyn Hall moved to Kuwait at just a few weeks old with her family where she lived until she was 16.
She then moved to Dubai where she worked for the cosmetics firm Lush helping to train Saudi women among others in what she says was one of the first retail businesses to hire female teams.
She moved to Indonesia two years ago to work as a scuba diving instructor and it was on an ordinary evening after an ordinary day at work when her world turned upside down.
Robyn, 36, had just finished cooking her dinner on the small island of Gili Trawangan where she was living when she felt tremors and ran outside.
She says: “I’ve experienced a couple of earthquakes in the years I’ve lived here. My island is off the coast of Lombok where the epicenter was. They never seemed anything to worry about, usually feeling quite weak and short.
“This time when the earthquake happened it was much stronger than anything I'd ever felt. I grabbed my cat and ran out of the house as there is a football field next door, an open safe space. On the way out, the power to the island cut, leaving us in the dark.”
A local man helped Robyn get back into her house to get her phone so she could contact friends and colleagues.
They then moved further inland up a hill where it was safer. It was there that Robyn heard about the efforts the local community and her fellow divers were making to set up medical sites on the beach.
She says: “Locals and tourists were working together. I was offered food and water from local people who had been brave enough to go back down to get supplies. There was a real sense of community despite the fact we were all scared and unsure of what would happen next. Hundreds of people stayed together on the hill that night through the immediate aftershocks, while hundreds more were helping people in the main part of the island.”
Joining the relief effort, Robyn has gone from teaching scuba diving to spending her days fundraising, shopping for supplies and coordinating their distribution and visiting different people in Lombok who’ve been affected by the earthquake.
She adds: “The sense of community is overwhelming. Many divers and businesses on the island have crowdfunding pages set up. This operation has been growing by the day, helped by the generosity of donators abroad, but as more of us made it to Bali we have had business owners offering help. Locals have been fundraising and doing clothes drives and individuals in Lombok and Bali have started to work with us more to get more coordinated, helping to ensure that the homeless in Lombok are getting what they need. There are around 200,000 now I believe.”
Using her experience in the world of business from working in Dubai, Robyn has been helping to manage inventory in the warehouse.
But, she says, the situation is bleak for many.
Mosques, schools and houses have been destroyed and the death toll is over 430.
“Some have made it to government shelter, some are sleeping outdoors with no shelter or power. Some more remote villages have not yet received aid and it's been over a week now,” she says.
“I've been in regular contact with my colleagues and they have all lost their homes. One has lost 17 members of his family. These people are my friends. When I've spoken to them their first question is always about my safety, which is astonishing considering their current situation.”
“We're doing everything we can to support them but we need to keep funds coming in. We've already been told by aid agencies that our community has managed to keep thousands of people alive due to our immediate response. Bigger agencies and the government need longer to mobilize and also have to work on long term strategies, this is normal. We're very proud of what we're achieving and the support we've been receiving so far but it needs to keep coming.”
“These people need our help to get through this in order to rebuild their homes and businesses to have a future.”
And while officials say that 8,400 tourists and resort workers have been evacuated from the islands Robyn lives on, she says she has no intention to flee.”
She adds: “There's no way I couldn't stay and help.”
“Indonesia and Gili Trawangan have been my home for two years. The people in need have been my colleagues, friends and essentially my family here. How could I leave them at a time like this? They need help to get back on their feet right now.”
“My house is accessible at the moment but doesn't have running water due to damage. I’m staying at one of the dive resorts. A number of the dive shops have an open door policy for people on the island who want to help either prepare the island for business or in the Lombok relief efforts. There's a real sense of community with everyone pooling together for communal meals and a bit of downtime together after their daily tasks.”