KIRF was founded on January 1, 2005 by Mark and Angela Kirwin in response to their need to help victims of the Andaman Sea tsunami. They were on vacation in Ranong, a small port town in southern Thailand, when the tsunami hit the coastline. The experience changed their life.
The Kirwins, along with their two children, survived the December 26, 2004 Andaman Sea tsunami due to several chance occurances. The first was when they changed lodging plans on arrival at Ranong airport on Christmas Day. They decided to stay at a bungalow up in the mountains near the hot springs instead of on the beach at the Andaman Sea Resort. On the morning of December 26, the tsunami waves hit the beaches south of Ranong and completely destroyed the Andaman Sea Resort killing 170 people. Eyewitnesses up the hill from the Andaman Sea Resort said the tsunami was a wall of water ten meters high that crashed over the tops of the trees and rushed up the valley inland of the bay. The Kirwins second chance came when they missed the tour boat to the island of Ko Phayam on the morning of December 26. Tired from traveling all day from Chiang Mai, through Bangkok and then to Ranong the day before, they slept in and missed the boat. The boat was lost at sea when the tsunami hit.
The Kirwin’s first found out about the tsunami’s destruction on the television in their rented bungalow. The Thai news coverage of disaster showed the first video footage was of stunned survivors and volunteers carefully searching through the crushed buildings, jumbled cars and trashed beaches for a familiar face and for those who still survived among the dead scattered everywhere. Seeing the horrifying aftermath of what just had happened less than 10 kilometers away, the Kirwins were moved to do all they could to help. The next few days they assisted injured tourists who lost all their belongings at Ranong hospital and purchased supplies and prepared relief packages with the local police and military for the Thai tsunami survivors who had lost loved ones, homes and livelihoods.
When the Kirwins returned from the storm-torn coastal southern Thailand, they wanted to do more. They founded KIRF, held a fundraiser in Ventura, and Mark Kirwin twice returned to Thailand in 2005.
During the first trip back in late January 2005 the Kirwins used the donations raised to help build a sustainable fish farm that provides a livelihood to over 30 families who lost everything and it provided books, art supplies, sports equipment and clothing for children at a coastal primary school. Check out Mark Kirwin’s February 2005 field report >
On the second trip back to Thailand in May 2005 KIRF was able to provide more long-term supplies to help islanders become self-sufficient. KIRF purchased generators, boats, food, clothes and rain cachement system water tanks for Moken islanders stranded on a small island. Many families had lost their fishing boats and there was not adequate food, water or shelter on the island for these people and their children. Check out Mark Kirwin’s May 2005 field report >
(Moken are nationless sea gypsies who live their entire lives on fishing boats. They are not considered citizens of Thailand or Burma and were generally ignored by the rescue teams from both of these countries. The Moken were profiled by National Geographic magazine in the issue dated April 2005).
After a year and a half of work, with assistance in fundraising by Mark Kirwin’s brother Paul Kirwin, the KIRF Educational Fund for Tsunami Orphans was established at Prince of Songkla University, Phuket in June 2006. Over fifty children who lost one or both of their parents to the tsunami in Ranong and Png Nah provinces where identified to KIRF by the local school district administrators and local school teachers. Of these orphans, those with the grades and who want to go to college will have a chance with a free university education courtsey of KIRF.
The respected Thai non-profit organization the Population and Community Development Association (PDA) has agreed to notify the orphaned students of the scholarship and manage its disbursement. More information about KIRF’s Tsunami Orphan Educational Fund >