Cyclone Nargis 2 – CTF Thailand and CTF Indonesia Collaborate: Myanmar Mission #2 – Part 1

Cyclone Nargis 2 – Part 1

 

CTF Thailand and CTF Indonesia

Preparation for the Joint Mission to Chiang Rai, Thailand

Cyclone Nargis and its effects

The landfall of Cyclone Nargis left the Union of Myanmar in a state of cataclysmic devastation. In addition to claiming at least 146,000 lives, the magnanimous storm was responsible for over $10 billion dollars in damage and egregious ecological effects.  As well as the immediate human hardship spawned by Cyclone Nargis, the residents of Myanmar are faced with the tragic reality of long-term environmental consequences.  “According to the Post-Nargis Joint Assessment (PONJA) report , 16,800 hectares (41,514 acres – 30%) of mangrove the forests were destroyed, while an estimated 20,999 ha (49 acres) of forest plantations were damaged in Yangon and the Ayeyarwady Divisions.”

Our previous newsletters depict the intervention of CTF Thailand, headed by Fr. Rocco Pairat Sriprasert (vice-provincial of the Thai vice-province), and Fr. Dominic Akrapan Nunthananawich         (Director of the Camillian Hospital in Bangkok.)  In October of 2008, CTF Thailand went into Myanmar in an attempt to minimize the effects of the catastrophe by providing aid to those affected.

Prior to the catastrophe, mangrove forests had already been substantially dissipated by clearing, charcoal mining, shrimp farming and rice cultivation.  Authorities report that few seedlings are available with which to reforest the sparse groves.  Many residents of Myanmar are dependent upon the mangrove forests and the resources within for their subsistence  Mangrove forests normally provide a barrier of resistance against storm surge; their destruction leaves tropical shorelines defenseless against inclement tides in the event of a future storm.  The restoration of the mangrove forests is expected to require at least five years, according to U Ohn, general secretary of the Forest Resource Environment Development and Conservation Association (FREDA), a semi-official NGO formed by retired personnel from the Forest Department of the Ministry of Forestry.  In the meantime, the ability of the population to sustain itself will remain inhibited; residents of Myanmar will require continuing aid from the government or other organizations (See Shortage of seedlings holds back mangrove recovery.)  

 

Cyclone Nargis’ ferocious tides also liquidated 24,214 MT of freshly-mined raw salt, according to the New Light of Myanmar, a publication monitored by the Myanmar government.  Eight out of ten geographically vulnerable salt mine workers lost their lives to Nargis, the most damaging storm in the recorded history of Myanmar.  The remaining laborers are insufficient to accommodate the needs of the mine owners, who also face the challenge of restoring damaged buildings and equipment. Thirty-five thousand salt farms experienced tragic monetary losses (See Salt farmers battling to rebuild livelihoods.

Preparation for Mission #2

Despite the success of CTF Thailand Myanmar Mission #1 and other organizations helping the people affected by Cyclone Nargis, the reality remained that the medical, material and spiritual needs of the Myanmarian population had become temporarily insatiable.  The entire population entered into a period of mourning.  Many had lost family members and friends.  Emotions and homes were ravaged; food and water supplies obliterated; and livelihoods encumbered by the effacement of natural resources, supplies and equipment.  Aside from the spirit of solidarity, little consolation was available, as the entire population was experiencing synonymous misfortunes.

Thus, the Camillian Task Force/SOS DRS, recognizing the needs of the people for continuing support, collaborated with the Camillians in Thailand, Salute e Sviluppo, and the Border Area Development Association, to organize a second missionary effort for the purpose of monitoring and enhancing programs implemented during the first mission. The emphaisis of the mission team was the provision of medical support for the affected victims.  The mission was scheduled for November 27 through December 3, 2008.

Despite his commitments in the United States, Fr. Scott Binet sincerely desired to accompany the other Camillian staff and volunteers on the mission, and he began making preparations to do so.  Touched by the suffering of the Myanmarian people and the possibilities of the growth of the CTF in the afflicted area, Fr. Scott  examined the possibilities of obtaining an extended visa.  As preparations progressed, however, it became evident that the integration of the mission into his schedule would detract from his obligations in the United States as the President of CTF/SOS DRS.  In the best interest of the Task Force, Fr. Scott opted to remain in the United States. In lieu of his presence, the CTF/SOS DRS  chose instead to provide significant funding for the mission.

Fortunately, Fr. Scott was able to persuade Theresia Sinaga (CTF/SOS DRS Indonesian Coordinator, (CTF/SOS DRS (Servants of Saint Camillus Disaster Relief Services to agree to accompany the team.  Theresia Sinaga was immensely grateful for the opportunity and prayerfully began to make preparations for the journey.

Other proposed participants included Fr. Rocco Pairat Sriprasert, Mr. Myo Thein (Local Coordinator in Myanmar) and Ms. Marissa Khomin, a volunteer.The Camillian medical team from Thailand was unavailable at the time, unfortunately, due to other commitments in the Southern region of Thailand. The Virtue of Patience was truly required to address the human resources challenges presented necessary to choreograph the mission successfully.


Arrangements necessary for foreign travel necessitated prayer, planning and preparation.  Fr. Rocco worked with Myo Thein, of CTF Thailand, to supervise the formalities associated with arranging the mission, in collaboration with the Border Areas Development Association (BDA), a local non-governmental organization in Myanmar.  The BDA is composed of people from the World Health Organization Civic Society (CSI) Initiative. The CSI is an organization that  recruits volunteers to provide free health care, educational opportunities and other forms of care and support to the underprivileged.   The CTF in Thailand communicated with their counterpart in Myanmar to obtain permission from the government to again enter the cyclone-rampaged localities.  Acquiring permission to travel to these regions proved challenging, as the authorities were restricting entry into the desired destinations.  Participants provided Fr. Rocco with scanned copies of their passports via e-mail. Visas to Myanmar are typically granted for a one-month period.  Myanmar, like the United States, does not require a sponsorship letter from a citizen for short-term entry.  Fr. Rocco forwarded the documentation to Camillian Thailand in Yangon, Myanmar.

 

 

On November 16, Theresia Sinaga arrived in Bangkok.  She spent her first night in an apartment at St. Camillus Hospital.  The following day, she attended the 6:30 a.m. mass in the St. Camillus Hospital Chapel.  Subsequently, Theresia met with Marissa Khomin.  Eagerly awaiting clearance to depart for Myanmar, Theresia found opportunities to utilize her talents and desire to serve others in the name of Christ.


Then, the unexpected happened: On November 27, the expected day of departure into Myanmar, the Prime Minister of Thailand declared a state of emergency, and two airports were closed. The mission was delayed. The continued closure of Suvarnabhumi Airport soon created the need to apply for new visas.  Simultaneously, the rescheduling of flights presented further delays. So a decision was made for several members of the team, including Theresia Sinaga, to travel to Chiang Rai, Thailand, to provide medical care there to citizens of a Myanmarian ethnic group that cross into Thailand at the border.

In our next communication regarding the CTF response to Cyclone Nargis, we will provide further details about the experiences of the Camillian team and their good works performed in the name of Christ through Mary in Chiang Rai, Thailand. Stay tuned for Myanmar Mission #2 (Part 2.)

 

May Christ Bless you for your prayers and for your support.

The Catholic Catechism teaches. . .

(2440) Direct Aid is an appropriate response to immediate, extraordinary needs caused by natural catastrophes, epidemics, and the like. But it does not suffice to repair the grave damage resulting from destitution or to provide a lasting solution to a country’s needs.  . . .

(2442) Social action can assume various concrete forms.  It should always have the common good in view and be in conformity with the message of the Gospel and the teaching of the Church.  It is the role of the laity “to animate temporal realities with Christian commitment, by which they show that they are witnesses and agents of peace and justice” (U.S. Catholic Church. Catechism of the Catholic Church (1997). New York: Doubleday, p. 646.)

Authored by: Theresia Sinaga, CTF/SOS DRS Indonesian Coordinator &

Susan M. Stefanski, Assistant Editor, CTF/SOS DRS Online Newsletter

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