TRAVEL & TOURISM
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Thailand is healing

Helping the “little people” - the people who need it most

Thailand is healing

Dr. Rebecca Lomax

Yesterday I walked through the devastated ruins of luxury hotels and beachside resorts at Khao Lak Beach on the Andaman Coast in western Thailand. Henrik Blomme was there on December 26 when a 10 meter high tsunami hit. I know because I found his American Express Corporate credit card from the Ericsson Group in Sweden.

The resort must have been beautiful. Built low with separate villas facing the sea, each was positioned to enjoy the view of impossibly blue seas and skies to its fullest. Only a fine line of sand seems to separate the two. Draperies still hung in the windows of the hotel villas, and I saw a piece here and there on the ground of carved teak. Amazingly, windows on the third level were intact in some of the villas.

Dang drives his yellow plastic go-cart around the play area. He is one of the more lucky ones.

I couldn’t find Henrik Blomme’s name on any of the Missing, Injured or Dead lists that are all over the internet, nor could I find him listed on any of the bulletin boards at the airport and the government complex. But I found his wife. Mr. Blomme and his two teen-aged children survived. Kristina Blomme did not. According to The Guardian (Guardian Newspapers, 1/4/2005) Mr. Blomme dug through the rubble, posted notices and frantically searched hospitals and emergency centers. Then he took his children and went home to Sweden.

I didn’t know any of this when I slipped his American Express card in my pocket, but I felt a little sad at seeing evidence of a real person who had obviously been on vacation in that very spot. Until then, I had only seen the destruction left by the tsunami – big chunks of concrete and splintered wood, overturned vehicles and enormous palm trees scattered like pickup sticks all over the beach. It had seemed unreal.

What story could ‘he’ tell us?

We watched pumps removing the last of the water from ponds that had been part of the landscaping. Big excavators were moving onto the property as we left. Across the road, a bus housing the remains of 37 travelers was towed out of a pond, and seven other vehicles were marked by white flags for removal. TV crews had filmed the whole operation. Thai villagers, their faces full of sympathy, stood watching as the forensic team began removing the bodies.

We passed the resort where the King’s grandson died, and then one almost untouched. In some areas the water crossed the highway and destroyed buildings almost a mile from the beach. A Thai navy vessel is parked far from the sea, and has become a favorite photo spot for travelers. It was a quiet drive to the big camp set up for survivors of this terrible disaster. The young Thai woman with me had never seen a disaster of such proportions.

Notes like this are ‘the positive ones’. A sure sign that somebody survived, but there are still many people who haven’t given up hope and look for the missing.

What I saw at Bang Meuang Camp, one of several camps set up immediately following the tsunami, made my heart lighter. While donated clothing is piled high on the ground, evidence of an immediate but disorganized response by local people, the influence of public health officials and skilled volunteers is strong. Running and bottled water, electricity, clean toilet facilities equipped with tissue are all available to both the displaced people living there and the staff and volunteers helping them. They should serve the needs of a temporary camp, so I hope that Bang Meuang does not become a permanent village.

Volunteers are everywhere, bringing good spirit and help to those who, only three weeks ago, were living normal lives.

Volunteers were unloading trucks full of donated food, medicine, bottled water and rice. I saw a family in a van giving more rice cookers than I could count to one of the relief organizations. Christian foundations were helping sort out the lists upon lists of missing and injured people. Thai Buddhist foundations were providing hands-on assistance with childcare, filling out forms for officials, cleaning baby bottles and dishes. Nursing and public health students and their professors were checking blood pressure, examining wounds and making baby formula. The surviving parents and children from Baan Nam Kem had constructed homes under the big tents, rooms sectioned off for privacy by plastic bags.

Small children were attending kindergarten classes in another tent, and one section had been carefully roped off to allow nursing mothers to have a modicum of privacy. The children’s artwork was hung on one wall of the tent, and an amazing air of normalcy prevailed in the classroom.

I smiled as little Dang narrowly avoided my toes while driving his yellow plastic go-cart around the play area. His whole family survived. I laughed at little Noi’s chuckles when her father tickled her. Only she and her dad survived. He calls her his “treasure”. And there were a lot of treasures in that little village where over 100 children perished from a school that houses 500.

I am heartened by the caring and by the way the children are being protected, by the hope in the faces of the survivors. I wasn’t alone. Media people moved very respectfully through the camp, noticing and pointing out to each other the many acts of kindness. Children played. Women mended the donated clothing. Men opined. Thailand is healing, a process that will be slow but a process that shows the heart of the Thai people.


Helping the “little people” - the people who need it most

In the wake of the killer tsunami, the world has been moved to assist countries ravaged by the worst natural disaster in recent history. Countless print and TV images have shown the destruction and rows of bodies awaiting identification, including those of overseas holiday-makers.

But what these images cannot show is the plight of local families that have lost loved ones, parents and children, and in many instances, the bread-winners and financial support of the extended family.

Since the main areas that were wiped out were tourist regions, the hotel staff that supplied the huge labour force for these tourist hotels has also suffered, many losing their lives trying to assist others.

Fortunately, these “little people” have not been forgotten, and with people such as Andrew Wood, GM of the Chaophya Park Hotel and Resorts, with the backing of the Thai Hotel Association and Chiangmai Mail Publishing, is now assisting the families of hotel staff in the South. Funds for this help will be, in part, raised through an online silent auction (for details, see page 11). Shattered families can be rebuilt, as well as shattered resorts.

You can be assured that your winning auction bids and donations will go directly to the people who need the support, and not swallowed up in some huge aid package that might not get to the “little people” who need the help right now, not next week or next month.

Charity begins at home, and your charity will go into the homes that need it. That is our promise.