A terrible disaster struck South-East Asia on December 26. Thailand was one of the 12 countries affected. At least 5,291 people were killed in the six provinces that make up Southern Thailand, amongst whom were many Thais and foreigners both adults and children. About 3,716 people are still missing: we believe that their bodies are buried under the sea. And at least 8,457 more are injured. We are in shock as a result of this terrible disaster.
After 2 or 3 days of searching for information regarding the disaster and receiving very little (due to a lack of organization on the part of the government and the Church), we Camillians decided to go to the disaster area in a 7-car caravan through the aid of both the Camillian Hospital and San Camillo Hospital in Bangkok. Forty-five people went (4 doctors, 1 dentist, 15 nurses, drivers, the entertainment team, Bro. Amicale Rebellato (the first volunteer), Fr. Rocco Pairat Sriprasert, Fr. Ackrapan Nanthavanit, Fr. Pongsiri Sangvalpet, 2 temporary professed Camillians and me, Fr. Paul Cherdchai. All of those who went were volunteers. We loaded our ambulances and vans with medicines, medical equipment, water, tents and some other necessary things etc. We decided to go to Phangnga Province, the place that was the most devastated by the tidal waves. We located our mobile team in Ban Bang Moung, Ta Kao Pa District, more than 800 kilometers from Bangkok. It took the whole night (about 12 hours of driving) to arrive there even though the roads were good. There was a lot of traffic, especially big trucks. We left from San Camillo Hospital at 1700 on January 4, 2005 and we arrived at 0500 the next day.
When we arrived at the city hall of Ta Kao Pa District we rested a little and then went to the camp at Bang Moung. There we found about 2000 people (500 families) living in tents. They had already received numerous donations: food, water, clothing, equipment for cooking, etc. We saw that their healthcare needs were being met as well, so we decided to go to another place that had yet to receive aid. Thus we proceeded to the more rural area of Bang Sak Village where 300 people had been dislocated because of the tidal wave. Here we started to provide medical aid to the people, many of whom were children and the elderly. We set up our tents very close to the people and stayed there for 3 days.
Nearly every family in Bang Sak Village lost one or two members during the disaster. We listened their stories of sadness again and again, one family after the next. They felt rejected, a native people without much education: we were the first to arrive there after disaster. The Camillians provided medical care for the children and the elderly and for those who were already badly injured and in the hospital. We also visited people in other camps to offer them psychological and spiritual support. During the evenings we organized games for children to relieve their suffering and mourning. After we started our work with the people in Bang Sak, members of the local church began to arrive and joined us in our efforts. They had not been able to organize a relief response on their own. We also inquired about what further assistance they and the people in the surrounding areas might need.
Many of the people are still traumatized by the tsunami, but at present they seem to have enough food, medicine, water, and clothing. There have been many donations. The people will need to eventually return to their homes where they will need housing, fishing instruments, boats, nets etc. In other words, they need to reconstruct their families.
After 3 days with this people and doing as much as we could, we Camillians agreed that if the Bishops’ Conference of Thailand asks us to take care of this village or any other we are ready to offer our help, to live the Camillian charism (the Bishops’ Conference called me to a meeting for January 10). We realize that there are many organizations who have come to help and may soon leave. We Camillians will do differently, though, taking care of the people until their lives return to some sense of normalcy. We intend to set up a mobile clinic with necessary medical equipment, medicine, and a team for psychological and spiritual support. This will help them until they can move to temporary housing that will be built by the government.
This is how we are trying to respond to the disaster as Camillians in Thailand. We thank all of you for writing to us to show your concern in the midst of this tragic situation. Please pray for the disaster victims in SE Asia.
Fr. Paul Cherdchai Lertjitlekha
Vice-Provincial of Thailand