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Tsunami Volunteer in Thailand

Listed under Volunteering Opportunities in Andaman Sea, Thailand.

  • Photo of Tsunami Volunteer in Thailand
  • Photo of Tsunami Volunteer in Thailand
Photo of Tsunami Volunteer in Thailand
Photo by flickr user Electrostatico
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On the 26th of December, 2004 for a large region of the Asian world things were forever changed, the tsunami with its devastating force took lives and livelihoods and flattened homes and the life-supporting sea and countryside without regard. Most of the world stood and looked on in amazement. Because the areas attacked were so thoroughly beautiful not only were locals killed in the devastation but also visitors from many nations, which is how I came to feel so strongly that I should become involved with the clean up and restoration job.

Christmas 2004 I was in my final year training to be a vet and I was planning to join a friend from my course on a break in Thailand for New Years Eve. She was there already and was sadly one of the victims of the event. This background is not strictly necessary to understand what followed, but it is important to realize why I was so compelled to assist in this particular region and appreciate the range of reasons people have for joining the volunteer community. It is also necessary to explain at this point that volunteers aren’t generally appreciated in disaster zones. You may wish with every fibre of your being to assist on the ground, but it’s not always the best thing for those you want to muddy your hands assisting – shelter and food conditions could be depleted by your willing hands. What is usually more suitable – something which was instilled in me at the time but which I didn’t fully appreciate until I arrived – is to be the volunteer to replace those first weary volunteers.

I felt I was sitting on my hands as I attended first aid courses and raised money at home to take with me to help the cause, but even being part of the third wave of disaster volunteers was a huge shock to the system. Arriving in Khao Lak it was like a shanty town of quickly made shelters and thrown together camps. My first thought was to liken it to the set of M*A*S*H*. Many local people were in shock, still grieving their loss or looking for lost family, but some had become part of the rebuild I was so passionate about helping with. My skills at digging and hammering and carrying things were quickly improved as I joined the teams building the basics people need to survive and though shocked and battered by what I was seeing my sense of duty quickly returned and I was able to dig sanitation wells, clear debris from the coast and help transport medical supplies to people in remote communities.

Asked for a highlight I can only say that it took a few weeks for me to really feel like I was doing what I had come to do and was really helping and I understood what people had said about timely help. It was the fundraising I did at home for the Tsunami Volunteer Centre that may have been more helpful to the local rebuild in the end. With my hands I provided labour unused to hard work, but my money provided much more.

Three years later I returned to the Koh Lak to offer my services again. Again, despite the extra training I took up learning skills I hoped would be useful, I was thrown off guard by what I saw. The changes were incredible. The place was alive again, people shopped in a new market, had cars, took buses, had access to health services and schools. It was an amazing transformation and again I felt useless. This second time I was to be part of a team teaching English to local people, which I thought sounded a soft job considering my past experiences. But so many people with English skills had been lost in the tsunami and the tourist industry needed those skills to recover. This time I was greeted with enthusiasm for life and for learning from people who had been devastated a few years earlier. Maybe this was the most incredible part of my experience and proves that any action can be timely when it comes to a desire to help others in our global community.

Written by  Kahan Kalhelida.

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