Five months after we came back from helping tsunami survivors get aid in the coastal city of Ranong, Thailand, my husband is leaving again for his third trip doing tsunami relief. Mark Kirwin (co-founder of KIRF) is off to Thailand in a couple of weeks. He will meet with several colleges to see about delivering our educational scholarship funds into a scholarship account for Tsunami Orphans at one of the local colleges. Since, the young tsunami victims who lost one or both of their parents are from predominantly working class and impoverished villages along the Thai coast north of Phuket, we will most likely choose one of the local colleges. We were told that these kids would not be able to afford to live in Bangkok and go to one of the universities there. While in Phuket Mark is considering the viability of visiting another Moken village to assess if some of these poor people are still in need after the tsunami hit. The Moken are nationless sea gypsies who live aboard their boats and for short periods stay at one of the numerous small tropical islands dotting the Andaman sea. We have seen that the many non-Thais in the country illegally–Moken or, most commonly, illegale immigrant Burmese migrant workers, are either afraid to ask for assistance for fear of being deported (a death sentence for many Burmese) or have asked for help and have been refused.
Mark visited an island of Moken in May of last year–5 months after the tsunami hit, and the situation was desparate. The head of the village told Mark that the Thai Navy put them on the island and they had only one boat left after the tsunami hit and it wasn’t enough to support over a 100 people in the village. His people were hungry and children were dying of malaria and other treatable illnesses. The villagers were surviving by scrounging for edible items they could find on the island and swim to like mussles (the areas between the living platforms and wooden decks were covered with broken and sharp mussel shells). They were also being supported with bags of rice and some old clothing from a local church community in Ranong. The Moken children Mark saw seemed thin and listless. They showed signs of malnutrition (bloated bellies and reddish hair color). No sanitation in village, no electricity and people seemed in general depressed and hungry.
KIRF was able to deliver a large fishing boat to this village with nets, an engine, petrol, rain water catch basins for drinking water supply and living supplies like cooking utensils, sarongs, and healthful food staples like rice, cooking oil, spices and fresh vegatables. The village people can now provide more nutritious food and an income from fishing to sustain themselves.