Insights from humanitarian aid teams

FCF Project Partner Builders of the Future reports:

June 15, 2005

Under supervision of the Phang-Na Education Service Area Office, we are participating in a program providing 12 to 18 months of education for students in 10 schools. These children, ages 5 to 7 years, either suffered directly as a result of the tsunami, having lost one or both parents, or come from underprivileged circumstances.

We are also establishing a children’s library, the purpose being three-pronged:

  1. To reinstate a sense of normalcy and harmony
  2. To create an educational facility to promote a love for learning and to empower these children with the ability to experience self-education.
  3. A child-friendly library would not only enrich their educational opportunities, but would create beneficial recreation to occupy their minds and introduce them to new realms of possibilities and adventure, beyond their immediate and often difficult surroundings.

The library’s IT Lab will provide two immediate advantages. Computer and IT literacy is becoming an increasingly important ingredient for success in today’s modern world. Additionally, the children will benefit from access to the wide variety of computer-or internet-specific educational resources, as well as access to a learning center for computer sciences.

FCF assures that 100% of all donations designated for tsunami relief will be used for tsunami relief efforts in the disaster areas, bypassing all other overhead.


May 25, 2005

Long-term Planning

Our focus has now changed a long-term plan for assisting with ongoing reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts. To this end, we made several return trips to the southern provinces of Phuket, Phang-Na and Rayong, and offered our skills, effort and time to working with children, delivering and distributing supplies and toys, visiting the infirm, conducting seminars for teachers of traumatized children, working at daycare centers, providing moral support for those building housing for displaced tsunami survivors, etc.

Thanks to a grant from Family Care Foundation, and under supervision of the Phang-Na Education Service Area Office, we will be providing 12 or 18 months of education for 10 schools.

Approximately 800 Thai children were left orphaned by the Asian tsunami, but many more children also suffered loss in other forms, whether through receiving injuries at the time of the tsunami, or by the untimely deaths of friends, classmates, teachers, the destruction of their homes and schools, seeing their parents or other family relatives lose their livelihoods, children or loved ones.

It’s impossible to accurately express the very great upheaval the tsunami brought into the lives of the many hundreds of children living in these provinces. Their worlds, their frame of reference, have been completely turned inside out. For them, the contrast between life before and after the tsunami is stark.

For many children who have experienced extreme shock or trauma, it is difficult to explain their emotions and feelings. There is much that they do not understand and even more that they do not know how to express. Yet expressing their grief and fears and feelings is very much a part of the process that is essential to their emotional and psychological healing.

From discussions with local community elders, social workers and those directly involved in the restoration of the affected provinces, and our desire to be of service and assistance to the Thai children who have undergone such severe turmoil was borne the concept of establishing a children’s library. 

To create a modern and multifaceted library will be an undertaking of some proportions, and will involve a great deal of time, manpower, resources and collaboration on various levels. We at Builders of the Future have been specifically requested to assist with the development and construction of the library’s IT Lab.

January 15, 2005

At the disaster relief camp, the heat in the tents becomes almost unbearable under the midday sun. Many of the villagers have put up little awnings using sticks and blankets to try and escape the blazing heat. 

Going from tent to tent to talk with and encourage the survivors, we spoke with one young mother who sat in with her 3-year-old daughter. The little girl accepted us immediately and was eager to play with us, and we were only too happy to accommodate her. 

The previous day was her daughter's third birthday, and she had asked for a tricycle. It was a difficult thing for the mother to explain to her preschool-aged daughter that they would have to wait to get her a tricycle, as they would first need to get a house, and daddy would need to find work.

Your help can make this child's birthday wish come true.

January 9, 2005

Yesterday was Children's Day, and the local community, provincial government and people from near and far came together to give the children living at the disaster relief camp--where over 3,000 tsunami-affected villagers are living in small tents and makeshift shelters-- a day of fun, games, activities and enjoyment. It was very touching to see how everyone involved put so much effort into making the day special for them.

A stage had been erected where the children were able to exhibit their talents in singing, dancing, and dramas. A large tent near the stage had been designated the activity area. We joined the children in their games and activities, learning arts and crafts alongside them, and getting to know some of them personally. 

Two little girls, Ploy (Gem) and Suan (Park), aged 10 and 9, were happy to make friends with us. Thankfully, their families had survived but they had lost everything else, including their homes, so they were among the thousands who had now made this 'tent city' their abode. They laughed as we talked together and soon joined their friends on stage for a lively song and dance routine that they had prepared for the occasion. It was wonderful to see the children at the camp excited about the events of the day and enjoying themselves, in spite of the difficulties they and their families now face and the terrible tragedy they had so recently witnessed. 

The slogan "Children are the hope of the future" couldn't be more truly said than of the children at this relief camp.

January 7, 2005

We were invited to Phang-nga province, to do a program at a school where the children had been directly affected by the tsunami. 200 hundred of the children attending this school used to live in one of the worst hit villages along Pang-nga's coast, Ban Nam Kem. 50 of those 200 children perished in the disaster. The remaining 150 children now live with their parents or surviving relatives at the nearby temporary camp for the displaced. Service trucks take the children to school and back every day. 

We had songs, drama and games prepared, as well as gifts and prizes to distribute to the children. The time we spent there was incredibly rewarding and touching, as the children responded so enthusiastically and joined in the songs and games wholeheartedly. 

Our immediate goals are: to continue to work with the children at the various temporary camps and shelters; to offer our services in translating or coordinating for various volunteers and medical personnel who continue to flow in from around the world; to begin a long-term program of visitation to the schools in the area in order to provide encouragement as well as physical assistance in any way that we can; to collect and distribute needed supplies to villages and centers in the affected areas; to personally reach out to and comfort the hearts of those that have lost so much in this tragic disaster.

FCF Project Partner Central Thai Mission reports:

January 6, 2005

We drove 3 hours north to the edge of Ranong province, approximately 200 km from Phuket, to a small village right on the beach which had suffered the full impact of the tsunami. We drove to the spot we had been directed to and at first we thought we had missed it because we couldn't see sign of a village anywhere. We ere indeed at the very spot where the village stood--until the tsunami washed it completely away. There literally was not one brick left in place and about 50 percent of the villagers there had died, many of them being small children. The survivors had moved to a nearby village and were living in relatives' houses or simply camping wherever they could. Because it is a small and remote area, these people had received very little in the way of supplies or assistance and were trying to do the best they could to help each other.

We met the daughter of the village elder, as she came to help us locate the survivors. She too, had an amazing story to tell. When the wave hit, she had no chance to escape and was sure that she would die. The wave carried her in a matter of minutes to a temple about 2 kilometers inland where she found herself, miraculously alive and not seriously injured. Since then she has been helping her father to acquire assistance and find shelter for the other villagers.

Among the items loaded on our truck are toys which we passed out to the children. We gave a Mickey Mouse doll to a four-year old girl, whose face lit up when she received it. She promptly sat down and clung to it for the rest of the time that we were there. From her grandmother we found out that child's father had died when the wave hit; since then the child had been very quiet and rarely smiled. "She had so much wanted a doll," said her grandmother. We hope that that simple gift might in some way be the beginning of the healing process in her young life.

We also talked with some of the parents and villagers there. Each person we met had been personally affected in a dramatic way by the tsunami-having either been a victim of the disaster, or being called upon to help those who were now left homeless. It was a wonderful experience to be able to reach out to these needy-and nearly forgotten-people.

January 5, 2005
At their invitation, we are now partnering with a government agency that has established an orphanage for the children that have lost their parents in the disaster. So far we have 300 orphans, but the officials expect the number to rise dramatically. This will be an ongoing project requiring rotating our emergency personnel to assist, as well as the sourcing of necessary supplies needed for the running of the orphanage itself.

We are also helping to provide necessary supplies and materials for the many temporary shelters housing the many thousands of displaced people. While we have received large amounts of aid delivered to our center in Bangkok, our greatest need is the cash to enable us to move the supplies to the disaster areas, as well as pay for the volunteers’ transportation and other on-the-ground costs.

So cash donations are needed for:

  • Transporting supplies and volunteer personnel to the various arenas of the disaster area.
  • Distribution of supplies from our relief base to the outlying villages and towns by pick up trucks
  • Maintaining Orphanage set up for newly-orphaned children
  • Further surveying the extent of damage in surrounding towns and villages, in coordination with local government officials.

January 4, 2005
The situation in general has improved greatly, as the government and international relief organizations continue to work tirelessly in the affected areas, constructing temporary housing for the homeless, restoring damaged infrastructure, clearing away the rubble and debris that was scattered all along the once-pristine coastline. The needs of the people there are still great, and the real work in some respects has only just begun, but the united efforts of everyone involved has made progress swift and raised spirits noticeably. 

Refugee Camp Orphanage

Our work at the children's center in the main disaster refugee camp has been going very well. We have been called upon to help in a wide array of capacities:

  • Working with the staff to set up a database to compile vital information concerning the children and their family situation.
  • We've helped to organize arts and crafts lessons, English classes, activities and games, which the children seem to enjoy a great deal.
  • A large tent was erected to be used as a handicrafts center, where young people and others in the camp can learn skills such as basket weaving.
  • We've also been helping with the general maintenance and cleanup of the shelter.
  • Above all, we try to spend as much time as we can talking with the children individually, listening to them and encouraging them and offering counsel and friendship.

 

Mobile relief team

With additional colleagues joining us, we were able to work in two teams which enables us to continue to concentrate on some of the more remote areas that still need assistance, in addition to focusing on helping the many newly-orphaned children at the relief center. 

Our "mobile relief team," as we came to call it, has been travelling to different affected areas, visiting and comforting survivors, encouraging the clean-up and reconstruction crews, distributing supplies as needed, etc. In one devastated area we met some men who were clearing the site of what had been a school, about a mile in from the beach. The only thing left standing was the flagpole in what had been a courtyard. The rest was gone. Thankfully the wave hit on a Sunday, so the children that would have normally filled the classrooms were safe at home. A new school is now being constructed on a nearby hill.

A short distance up the road we met a young lady, Khun Petch, who was trying to salvage what she could from the wrecked remains of her house and clear some of the debris from what had been her front yard. She had lost her younger sister and brother in law, and confided to us that although she was just now beginning to come to terms with the tragedy, her mother and father were taking the loss very hard. We talked with her for quite some time, and she told us that just being able to talk to someone, to know that someone cared enough to take the time to listen to her, meant a lot and lifted some of the burden from her heart. We were able to leave a few boxes of supplies with her to distribute to her relatives and other families that were temporarily living in tents in the hills nearby.

January 2, 2005
A second group of 15 volunteers arrive in Phuket, bringing further supplies to distribute to the most severely affected families, and to bring moral support and encouragement to both victims and relief workers. We have already distributed 10 tons of donated supplies, clothing and food to needy situations, and are in the process of distributing a further 20 tons.

Of course, this only a drop in the bucket when compared with the immense need that exists--whole villages were washed away when the waves hit, and thousands of already very poor people have lost their homes and all their belongings--and it will take more than just food and clothing to rebuild their livelihoods, and perhaps more importantly, to lift their despairing spirits and strengthen the will to start again and continue on.

December 28, 2004
With a smaller team of six we headed for Krabi which took in a lot of the survivors from Phi Phi Island. On the way, we dropped in at Phanga Hospital where once again, we took some time to minister to the patients there. With many foreigners lingering in the corridor of this hospital, we were told that this hospital had taken in the bulk of foreigners who were injured and therefore, folks were still here searching for clues of missing loved ones.

We gave each a token bag of food as well as clothes that would fit them. Traveling another 100 km, we went to Krabi where we met up with our Swedish volunteer there, Ake and his Thai wife Jeab, and their family. Our Swedish colleagues took on the roles as translators for the many Scandinavians there.

December 27, 2004
CTM staffer John Frost and another volunteer packed their truck with 30 boxes of supplies and drove 12 hours to Phuket . Project manager Debbie Ekner and her team of four others arrived the same evening by plane. Our base in Phuket warmly received us and others who had come to help. Joe and Mook opened their home to us and the use of their pickup. It was just fantastic to see the high-level of co-operation and motivation there. Whether it was having to sleep on the floor, or go for several days without a proper lunch as we were constantly on the road traveling to the various towns – nobody complained and everyone was just happy to be of some service somewhere, making a difference for someone.

On the street though, death, despair and destruction affronted me as I stood amidst the rubble and debris at the village of Ban Nam Kem. This small village was totally devastated by the tsunami wave which brought torrential waters, destroying everything in its path.

Tears quickly welled up when I saw toys scattered amidst; children's shoes still floating in the receding waters, a computer keyboard and mouse brings home reality -- just as if I could have been that person sitting by the computer when the waves came.

In the distance, at this time of dusk, I see the beautiful sunset above the calm sea – the sight that has attracted many -- foreigners and locals – to the beaches of Khao Lak. It’s no wonder that this same beauty caused a boom in this village of Nam Kem as shopping centers, a cinema, new businesses & homes sprung up quickly in the last few years. It’s an incredible contrast at this point to see the devastation in front of me caused by this same innocent sea in the distance.

Only one house is left standing in this whole fishing village and Khun Anantra, the owner, told us of how the second floor of the house provided refuge to three children left alone in a nearby house, when their parents went fishing. They along with a few others rushed upstairs and were spared. The only tragedy in that household was an uncle who was caught unawares downstairs when the powerful waters rushed in.

At this time of our visit – just two days – after the disaster, dog-sniffing teams still on the look out for bodies or survivors joined us. There was a distinct stench in the air, perhaps from rotting food left in the homes or animals we’d like to think, and we kept our masks on. This was bearable unlike the stench of dead bodies at nearby Wat (temple) we just passed by. The stench along with the sight of grieving folks and rows of coffins was all too much at the end of this day.

We headed first towards the Takua Pa Hospital where it was reportedly swamped with casualties, being that it is closest to the pristine Khao Lak area and the heavily-populated Ban Nam Kem fishing village which was the worst hit. All 5,000 rooms of Khao Lak's resorts were fully booked during this peak season.

At the hospital, our balloon sculptors Ike, Angela and Sunny headed for the children’s ward where they cheered up many of the kids and visiting relatives with their ballooning gifts. Others on the team were also able to go around to talk, play with kids and encourage the hearts of family and friends.

Others went to the adult wards where they encouraged and comforted patients. We all fought back our tears as we heard story after story of how the raging torrents so quickly engulfed and dragged away loved ones . We prayed with all of them to receive the blessing of God’s strength, hope and peace at this time as such a tragedy was beyond human understanding and comfort. The team then went on to minister to the homeless who were camped out in the basement of the hospital.

Our volunteers were also responded to hospital announcements asking for help in translating as most of us are versed in Thai and English.

Taking the Khao Lak route home, we were shocked by the extent of damage in this area. It was just incredible to see how the sea, which was perhaps 3 km from the road we were traveling on, could have come up right across the road and onto the other side, destroying everything in its way. There were vehicles, smashed and strewn all over on both sides of the road, along with flattened buildings – some of which being multi-storeyed resorts.

Excavators were busy clearing rubble, perhaps finding bodies aswell . Traffic crawled at snail’s pace as motorists made way for the constant flow of ambulances and rescue vehicles whirring their sirens in urgency. At one point, we counted 17 trucks piled with bagged bodies going by us. If that wasn’t enough to sicken the stomach, we finally came to a point where all the traffic almost stopped and when we looked to find out what was the cause, we saw an open area like a carpark where rows of bodies were lined up in body bags . There were lorry loads of coffins by the side and rescue vehicles ready to take off.

December 27, 2004
We mobilized both personnel and humanitarian aid to assist the survivors of tsunamis that battered Thailand's southern coasts on the morning of December 26th. The first 10 tons of relief supplies will accompany the first teams in (food, clothing, cooking accessories, personal hygiene products, blankets, baby supplies, drinking water, household products, etc.)

Fifteen volunteers are already mobilized in Phuket and Phangna (one of the worst hit areas) and assisting provincial officials by translating and coordinating for injured foreigners and those in the area. Some of our folks were in Phuket the day the floods hit, so volunteered their services at the Patong Hospital to help translate for the injured foreigners and answer the flood of phone calls that were coming in from abroad from concerned relatives. The next day they majored on translating for the tourists who came to report missing friends or loved ones to the police. Many of the police are not too proficient in English so the help was very welcomed.

With over 5000 people dead, and over 6000 people still missing, the stench of death still lingers in the air. At least 10000 people, both Thai and foreign, were injured in Sunday’s catastrophe. Our volunteers are engaged in one-on-one counseling during hospital visitation in both Phuket and Bangkok, bringing a message of comfort, solidarity and hope that broken hearts and destroyed homes can be restored.

Urgently needed material items include: bottled water; clothing; dry foodstuffs (rice, instant noodles, powdered milk, etc.); undergarments; shoes; toiletries and sanitary napkins; tents; blankets and bedding; pots and cooking utensils, etc. Another need: coffins and body bags are needed.

For chronological account, begin reading at bottom of page

Students play the “Glad Game” with Suchada and Anna
The children may have lost their homes and belongings, but they certainly have not lost their aptitude and desire for learning.
Michael with two village children.
Michael Andreassen and Hanna Lillethun visiting hospitalized survivors in Pang Na
The ‘Miracle’ house of Ban Nam Kem which stands intact amidst total destruction.
Ranu, a private nurse for an old lady recounts how she carried her charge in her arms while battling the waves, till she died.
Learning right along with the children —making flowers out of tissue paper.
Marilena, Joanne and Anna help wash the dishes after the children’s lunch
Joanne with some of the children at the shelter- including a beautiful 20 day-old baby girl. Her parents are homeless and lost all of their belongings in the tsunami.
Andrew speaks with one of the village elders
Anna’s antics are rewarded with a giggle from 4-year-old child
Anna and John with Khun Petch, in front of her empty house