A Look Back.. CTF Thailand – Myanmar Mission #1 – Part 2

In May 2008 Cyclone Nargis devastated the Union of Myanmar (also known as Burma). It caused the worst natural disaster in the country’s recorded history. At least 146,000 people died and thousands more people went missing. CTF Thailand, SOS DRS, Salute e Sviluppo and the Camillians wanted to help those who were suffering. So after a situational analysis and with outside support, CTF Thailand chose to work in collaboration with a local partner in Myanmar – the Border Area Development Association (see CTF Thailand – Myanmar Mission #1 – Part 1 in our December 8, 2008 e-newsletter).

The CTF Thailand response to Cyclone Nargis was led by Fr. Rocco Sriprasert, the Vice Provincial of the Thai Vice–Province, and Fr. Dominic Akrapan, the Director of Camillian Hospital in Bangkok. It was Fr. Dominic who first led a reconnaissance team into Myanmar in order to do a situation analysis and to find a partner with whom to collaborate. They found the BDA, the Border Area Development Association, an NGO in Myanmar. And then together with Fr. Rocco, on May 28 Fr. Dominic developed a plan and an operating budget that included emergency aid that would provide for the livelihood, temporary shelter, food and support of 3,000 families. Because the Thai medical personnel would not be allowed to go the most affected areas, Fr. Rocco decided to provide support for Myanmar health personal through training doctors and volunteers, and providing medicines. And this effort would be supported by a base of operations in Rangoon, Myanmar – an office with staff including a director, project manager, Thai coordinator, Burmese Coordinator, translators and ancillary personnel. There would be other expenses including transportation and lodging.

Responding to disasters involves gathering many types of resources: human, material and financial – from near and far. I was far away from Myanmar when on May 20 I first started to seriously considered going to Thailand and then Myanmar to help. I was in Rome at the time at the CTF coordinator’s office. I was beginning to believe that I might really be able to get into Myanmar despite the fact that since May 2, when the Cyclone struck, the government had closed the country to foreigners – particularly Americans. Even Myanmar’s neighbors from Thailand were restricted in their movements. Then on May 30 I received a discouraging e–mail from Fr. Rocco that “The Myanmar officers are quite strict with western people but they allow with limit for Thai, Indian and some Asian people. They don’t allow foreigner to enter the Irrawaddy Delta.” That news seriously dashed my hopes for going to Myanmar so I resigned myself to staying in Rome and then returning to the US to do some fundraising to support the relief effort. Given the gravity of the disaster and the ensuing need, that was the least I could do. I would also focus on trying to get Theresia Sinaga, the CTF Indonesian Coordinator, involved in the disaster response in Myanmar. Fr. Rocco welcomed both.

The preparatory work for the disaster response in Thailand and Myanmar continued. In early June Fr. Rocco sent me a list of 37 Burmese physicians (20 women and 17 men) with whom the Camillian Hospital Group Team would collaborate. They were 2 surgeons and 2 nurses from Camillian Hospital in Bangkok. These 4 would train the Burmese physicians and volunteers in the care of infected wounds, trauma and waterborne diseases.

Myanmar is divided into divisions (states) and smaller townships. Townships are composed of villages. It was the southern part of the country that was most affected by Cyclone Nargis. Fr. Rocco and the leaders of the DBA initially decided to serve primarily the people along the seashore southwest of Rangoon in the Irrawaddy Delta. They focused on 3 townships: KAWHMU; KUNGYANGON; DEDAAYE (see Yangon Division Map). In these townships they would focus on 15 villages – targeting a quantity of 3000 families.

July came and with it did a greater commitment on the part of the CTF in the US and Salute e Sviluppo to support the relief effort in Myanmar. In the US, D’Ann Fisher, Vienna Maalouf and I were already fundraising in parishes as part of the mission cooperation plan (MCP). This plan allows missionaries to enter into dioceses to speak and raise money. We went to the Dioceses of Rockford, Salinas, Syracuse, Worcester and Hartford. I even had the chance to speak at St. Ann’s Parish in Manlius , New York where I received my First Communion and was later confirmed. Praise the Lord! And Brother Luca Perletti in Rome, in his capacity as the head of the Secretariat for the Missions, was searching for funding from Caritas Italia. Brother Luca is the person with whom I most collaborate in Rome in my capacity as the CTF international coordinator. The Fr. General and the Consulta requested that the CTF provide significant financial support for the ongoing relief effort in Myanmar. We were happy to do so. We made that affirmative response official at our first SOSDRS board meeting on July 24, 25 in North Carolina. Brother Luca was in attendance along with Michael Firmin (Vice–President); Todd Binet (Treasurer); D’Ann Fisher (Secretary) and Sherman Runions.

Time passed and the Camillians in Thailand were unfortunately hindered in their plans to enter into Myanmar. According to the DBA, there were security concerns and governmental clearance problems. The Camillians did receive offers of significant financial support from Salute e Sviluppo, the CTF and the Saint Camillus Foundation in Thailand. After several months of patient waiting CTF Thailand Myanmar Mission #1 finally started on October 3, 2008. This first foray into Myanmar would last through October 10, a total of 1 week.

The delay in entering into Myanmar had allowed for a growth in the number of people who would compose the Camillian team from 5 to 8. These included:

1. Rev. Fr. Pairat Sripraseret, Vice–Provincial Superior, Camillians in Thailand
2. Rev. Fr. Dominic Ackrapan Nunthawanich, Director, Camillian Hospital, Bangkok
3. Dr. Manas Ratanachokthorani, Medical Doctor, San Camillo Hospital, Bang Pong, Rajburi
4. Mrs. Arpornphet Kongnava, Nurse, San Camillo Hospital, Bang Pong, Rajburi
5. Ms. Chadaporn Khaimarn, Hospital Administrator, San Camillo Hospital, Bang Pong, Rajburi
6. Ms. Supischa Chongpanichkajorn, Volunteer
7. Ms. Marissa Khomin Volunteer
8. Mr. Myo Thein Local Coordinator in Myanmar

The Camillian team arrived via plane in Yangon (Rangoon) on the morning of October 3, 2008. Working with the DBA, they finalized the plan for the next week. The 8–member team of CTF Thailand would be joined by 7 members of the DBA – 4 physicians and 3 other volunteers. Their mission would serve a slightly different area compared to the original plan in May/June. The focus would be on the Yangon Division – the townships of SHWEPYITHAR; HLAINGTHARYA, SOUTH DAGON, KYAUKTAN (see Yangon Division Map ) and the Ayeryawady Division – the townships of MAWKYUN and BOGALE (see Ayeyarwady Division Map )

What follows is the schedule for the mission, the ministry performed in each location and a description of the location itself. The content of this section is derived from my personal communication with Fr. Rocco.

See pictures from this mission:

Ayeyarwady Division Map Naga Cave Monastery Photos Ngwe Taung Yan Village Photos
Shwepyithar Township Photos South Dagon Township Photos Pyisimaryone Monastery Photos
Thonkwa Village Photos Yangon Division Map

Fr. Scott Binet MD, MI
International Coordinator – CTF


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