Cyclone Relief for Burma: Thursday Update – Not Much Longer Now!

It is hard to believe that we have been at this Cyclone relief for Burma project for seven days now. It truly feels like seven weeks.

All we can do is remember that our hell is nothing in comparison to the hell that the Burmese victims (who have no shelter, food, nor drinkable water) continue to endure. For them, we persevere.

We two Canadians seem to have unwittingly become an international NGO, and are doing the work of a full-fledged organization.

This post was originally published in 2008. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content. 

Nora Dunn and Kelly Bedford speaking at a Chiang Mai Rotary club as part of their mission to provide Cyclone Relief for Burma

Our travel visa to stay in Thailand ends before the month is out; less than two weeks away. We are pushing to be able to see this project through to completion before we have to leave (and we have no chance to extend our visa as we must be in Australia for a contract).

The end of every business day in Thailand marks the end of a day’s progress, for better or worse. And the closer we inch to the weekend, the closer we will be to two days of relative inactivity. A blessing for our tired bodies, but a curse for this project.

Today, we attended the Rotary Club of Chiang Mai Thin Thai Ngam (an all woman’s club!) and met some unbelievably powerful people:

  • The visiting president of the Rotary Club of Kawasaki in Japan. This man owns Mt. Fuji. Owns it. He gave us money. (!)
  • A retired Thai general who is now the head of a number of humanitarian organizations, a member of the House of Representatives, and who has the ear of the monarchy of Thailand. He gave us money too.
  • We met Governor Elects, Rotary District Governors, Rotary Presidents, and extremely powerful business people.
  • We received donations from the Rotary Chiang Mai Airport club, Chiang Mai North club, and Chiang Mai Thin Thai Ngam club. In total, donations from generous Thai people and fellow travelers is now almost half of what has been donated by our Canadian friends. And all in two days. Let’s step it up, Canada!

We also by chance met Beth, a wonderful woman from the UK who travels and does humanitarian work. She has joined us in the trenches, making phone calls and helping us sift through the tangled web of red tape we seem to be wrapped in.

And CBC seems to love us; there is a camera crew on their way from Bangkok to do another story for the national news! We hope that this story will raise even more awareness and corral Canadians to continue to donate to the cause we are working so hard for. We are making a real difference in the world…let’s do it together!

Logistical Update:

Nora Dunn and Kelly Bedford receiving a cheque from an all-female Rotary club in Chiang Mai for their Cyclone Relief for Burma project

It appears that our initial hopes of utilizing the services of the Royal Thai Air Force or Thai military may not be possible, as the channels they wish to use to distribute the aid will land the goods directly in the hands of the Burmese military, which is against Canadian Sanction laws from what we can discern. Unless the above forces can somehow be sanctioned to deliver the aid directly to an aid organization in Burma like the Burmese Red Cross (who are on the ground and very active from our reports), then this option may well be dead in the water.

So we are searching for other options, again networking in a country where the language and culture are just beyond our grasp. Everything takes twice as long as it should as a result.

…tick tock tick tock…and people in Burma continue to suffer…

But progress continues to be made at an alarming pace. Here are the options we are actively working on:

1) We would like to work with the Thai and Burmese Red Cross, who our reports indicate are effectively getting aid distributed in Burma. We would still like to purchase the goods ourselves to give to the Red Cross, and watch it get loaded up (heck – even to help load it onto the truck or plane ourselves!) for delivery.

And we just received news through the grapevine that the Chiang Mai Red Cross has been collecting donations (in kind we think) for Burma. If this is indeed true (and so much can be lost in translation!), then there may be well-established channels for us to work with in Chiang Mai and an ability to expedite the permit application in Canada.

But of course, there are many many (many!) things that must be worked out in order to maintain this level of involvement with the delivery of such aid, especially when dealing directly with aid organizations. Not the least of which are continued red tape and logistical issues coming from Canada. Sheesh.

2) We are continuing to foster contacts with other aid organizations who are on the ground in Burma. Confirming their involvement is tricky, and in turn confirming how we can maintain control (or at least a watchful eye) over how the money or directly-purchased aid is delivered is again, quite the undertaking.

One such option is the Shelterbox program, which continues to appear to shine in the event of the Burmese disaster. We have confirmed through Tom Henderson in the UK that 600 boxes landed in Burma shortly after the cyclone hit, and have been in the hands of cyclone victims as seen on state tv. As I write this, 1000 more boxes are in the air from the UK; Tom personally helped to load them on the plane.

Shelterbox has 4 people in Burma, who each trained 40 teams of 40 people – all non-military, strong locals, and each person will train 100 more people. So it seems that 4 people on the ground in Burma are turning into an army dedicated to Service Above Self.

Although there are no guarantees these days, it appears that the Shelterboxes will continue to be received in Burma. The first load got through, and the Burmese military have done nothing to stop the efforts of the trained Shelterbox volunteers who are waiting at the airport for this delivery.

Tom at Shelterbox even went so far as to say that they have dealt with tougher situations in North Korea and Somalia; that Burma by comparison is not as difficult as those projects were.

3) With all of these options and more, we are working on applying to Canada for the appropriate permits to use any direct channels we establish to purchase and deliver the aid ourselves. Although it is technically possible, with our tight timelines and our own personal workforce of two (plus Beth, the generosity of the Thai contacts we have established, and fellow Rotarians in Canada), this is less than easy.

Personal Update:

We are hanging on by our fingernails. Last night we went to bed “early” (midnight) to catch up on some much needed sleep. We woke up this morning feeling more pained than rested.

By about 3pm every afternoon, we tend to lose perspective, we lose our cool, and we lose the ability to keep our eyes open. If we’re lucky, we get a chance to sleep for an hour before mobilizing for the start of the day back home in Canada and a new flurry of contacts and emails.

Day to day and hour to hour, staying motivated is a challenge. Our savior is that this cannot possibly last beyond the end of the month, and in fact with the good news from Shelterbox and Red Cross, we feel this may be over sooner than anticipated, with commendable results and a chance to say that we, our fellow Canadians, our fellow travelers, and our friends in Chiang Mai, really did something good.

And how our lives and perspectives will be oh so different after this is over.

We know we will see this project through to finality (whatever that means), and we will honour the fiduciary responsibility and promises we made to our donors. That is not a matter in question at all. In fact, we feel we are very close to a real solution, and have raised incredible awareness and opened the hearts and wallets of people who may otherwise not have done anything.

Currently, we have raised over $11,000 Canadian Dollars (some of this is converted from Thai Baht).

Two Canadians with the naïve idea to fill a truck with water and deliver it to the border are learning how to be an NGO on the fly. What an experience!

When we were at the Rotary meeting this afternoon, we found the only English words in the program:

May you have enough happiness to make you sweet

Enough trials to make you strong

Enough sorrow to keep you human

And help others.

It is by these words that we continue on for another day.

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