Field Report: Tsunami relief field report: Helping Moken sea gypsies recover from the tsunami after being abandoned on an island

The last few days have been a whirlwind of activity. We had productive meetings with the head of the department of education to set up scholarship funds for the tsunami victim orphans. We decided that the best way to do this is to have a party at our Ranong contacts office where the children will come with guardians, get their photos taken and file out a short paper telling us what they want to do. We are arranging for a bank representative to be there also to help with setting up separate accounts for the children’s education.

I saw photos of the children, which we had asked the department of education to give us. They were small photos but one could see the listlessness in each face, not a single smile in a culture of smiles…

After these meetings, we began searching for other tsunami projects but ran into some dead ends. This was disheartening because I knew the need was there. The next morning my brother Stephen rallied the troops, me, our interpreter, Stephen’s friend Bee, and said let’s go find that catholic priest who is allegedly helping Burmese orphans.

We did not find him but in the search, we rode our motorcycles into a church courtyard, looking kinda like aliens from outer space: two big white guys showing up to a school church session, asking about some priest from another denomination. As you can imagine it was a rather strange experience, but it’s about going with the flow and this happens a lot.

As it turned out, when we were explaining what we were doing, after waiting for awhile for the Pastor to show up, explaining that we were not promoting any religion, but just here to help, I heard the Pastor say Tsunami and Moken.

This lead to an intense hour long discussion where we found out that this church, and only this church in the world of international and national tsunami relief, is the only organization helping out this Moken village that was hit by the waves according to the Pastor. There were no deaths but the Moken had lost all of their boats. The Moken are a boat people, historically nomadic that live on the sea. I was told that they have been forced there by the Thai government to live on islands. As we came to see, the Moken were living on a very isolated island, a long boat ride from the mainland.

Thirty minutes later we were on a boat motoring to the island. What we experienced next struck so very deep- utter poverty, malnourished children, clep-mouth adults, muscles as the only food they could gather from the beach, dilapidated pole structures as houses, minimal and worn clothing, a women who had lost her husband and infant to malaria and so on… They were in dire need of help. Yet they were very proud of whom they are and smiled at us with kindness.

We were told that the local Thai government cannot help them because the Moken has no registration. The local Thai businesses will not sell to them because they are not registered. So, as a result, there was a bit of concern about who we were and our intentions.

So a meeting was called, Bee translated while helping ease concerns with words of encouragement and explaining who were. Stephen took photos and I asked them what they needed. Bee told them that they were worth more than what they were getting in aid. She told them that we would help as much as we could.

What followed were many of the people telling us that they needed rice, salt, noodles, cloths for children (sarongs), oil, chilies’, nets, boats, motors, canned fish (the fish in the ocean have not returned yet and their boats are all ruined from the wave), water storage supplies, and a generator since they did not have any electricity.

So, today, we started the rounds of Ranong buying what we could.

Tomorrow we will purchase more and go back to the island. This afternoon we will go into the mountains to see more poor people in the villages so we can asses who needs aid.

Call it Karma, direction from God, or just being in the moment, but it was truly amazing that we rode into that church and within hours were on the path to helping these very kind people that were so extremely poor and hungry.

Until later,