Posts Tagged With: Humanitarian

Remembering the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami

On December 26th, 2004, a tsunami generated by a 9.0 earthquake under the Indian Ocean slammed into the coastline of 11 countries including countries from East Africa, South Asia and South East Asia.  The quake created 50-foot waves onto the shores of the affected countries resulting to about 150,000 casualties making it the most destructive tsunami in history.

9 months after the tsunami, I went to Andaman and Nicobar Islands in India, Eastern part of Sri Lanka and in Central Thailand to produce a documentary film on the rehabilitation efforts of humanitarian organizations that have not been given much attention by the international media.

Almost all the countries situated around the Bay of Bengal were affected by the tsunami. In India, the most affected is the Andaman and Nicobar Islands comprising of 572 islands out of which 38 are inhabited.  Andaman and Nicobar Islands is located right at the center of Bay of Bengal just north of the earthquake epicenter causing extensive damage to the Andaman Islands.

In Port Blair, the capital mainland, most of the areas were still submerged in water.

Asia Tsunami

Asian Tsunami

What was used to be an agricultural land area, the tsunami has turned it into a lake of seawater.  Instead of the farmers plowing their rice fields, they fished for food.

Asian Tsunami

We also travelled to Little Andaman, one of the most affected islands about 10-hour boat ride from the mainland.  It was my most scariest boat ride ever!  While at sea, we experienced heavy rain, almost like a big storm. I thought we were going to die as big waves splashed through our old dilapidated boat.  People were vomiting everywhere.  I and my crew decided to go up the deck as there was no ventilation inside.  We were drenched from the combination of rain and big splashes of waves (I was imagining how we will survive if a tsunami happens at that moment!).

Asian Tsunami

At the deck, after the big storm

Little Andaman was not quite lucky compared to other Andaman Islands.  The entire island was ravaged.

Asian Tsunami

Almost a year after, clearing operation still left unfinished.  It was as if the tsunami has just happened the day before we arrived the island instead of 9 months ago.  There were still fallen trees blocking the roads, debris scattered everywhere and people have no permanent housing built yet by the government at the time of our visit.

Asian Tsunami

Due to logistical challenges, the rehabilitation process was way too slow.  Most of the humanitarian organizations operating in Little Andaman were from religious sectors such as the Catholic Church.

Asian Tsunami

The most primitive tribes in the world live in Andaman and Nicobar Islands.  They have little contact with the outside world.  It was reported that most of the indigenous people have escaped the disaster because they live on higher ground or far from the coast.  Some believed that it was because of their oral tradition which taught them how to flee into the hills or elevated areas if the earth shakes that saved their lives.

Most of the deaths in the islands were recent settlers or immigrants.  We visited some of the affected communities and interviewed some of the survivors. We were also able to reach one of the indigenous tribes but we were not allowed to take photos.

In commemorating the 9th year anniversary of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami today, here are some of the photos of the tsunami victims whose stories of survival, resiliency and hope have touched me immensely.

Asian TsunamiAsian TsunamiAsian Tsunami

Asian TsunamiAsian TsunamiAsian TsunamiAsian Tsunami

Categories: Asia, India, Wandering the Road Less Traveled: My Humanitarian Missions | Tags: | Leave a comment

In the midst of hardship

I have been working as an international development worker since 2006 and have worked in several developing countries.  However, my humanitarian mission in South Sudan is by far the most challenging and most difficult, yet the most fulfilling job i’ve ever had. I would not trade this experience for anything….not even my past ‘Gasm’ Travels!

Here is a peek of my humanitarian lifestyle, in the midst of hardship.

My deployment entails travelling with my team (a group of 4 male national staff) in far flung places often on unpaved rough roads,….

South Sudan

in muddy, flooded highways…..

South Sudan

notwithstanding the imminent dangers of road accidents, robberies, car hijacking and ambushes….

South Sudan

as well as the Unexploded Ordnances (UXO) or unexploded ammunitions and anti-tank landmines and other remnants of war that are scattered in roads, in farms and gardens, in the bush, communities even within town centers.

This was taken during one of our clearance operations in one of the communities in Central Equatoria State. This is a main busy highway connecting a village to the main town. Unknowingly to many, there were a number of unexploded air bombs and mortars half buried on the ground which if detonated can cause a massive explosion.

UXO

When we reach our destination, we first look for a place to camp either within the village center or outskirt of town.

south sudan

Here are the various campsites we had so far….from Western Equatoria State to Central Equatoria State to Eastern Equatoria State….south sudan

Yes, I sleep in a small tent (which is often leaking when it is raining!)

…And this is my home…..welcome to my humble abode!

south sudan

….and this is my office….

South Sudan

Welcome to our kitchen! We hire a cook from the village.  We use charcoal in cooking.  If there is no borehole nearby, the river water serves as our water source. 

South Sudan

What we eat depends on how much budget we still have and what is available in the village market.  At the beginning of deployment, often there is meat but after a few weeks, my local teammates end up eating the same kind of food….the greens, a local leafy vegetable cooked in peanut butter.

South Sudan

A typical meal of South Sudanese is a combination of Greens and Ugali (made of cornmeal flour).  It is also the cheapest and most available food in every village.  Here is how Mary, one of our hired cooks, prepare the greens.

south sudan

There was one incident during our last week of deployment where we ran out of money in the field.    Luckily I always have my emergency canned goods stored.  However, the guys opted to hunt for food.  It has just rained that night.  I was inside my tent preparing for bed.  I saw them with a cup kneeling under a bulb light as if doing some rituals.  The next day, I asked them what they were doing outside my tent.  They showed me a cup full of flying ants.  These are the insects that come out after the rain.  They told me that it was for dinner.  They showed me how to prepare it, removing first the wings and drying the insects under the sun.  Then after a few hours, they fry it in oil then greens are added.  Voila! Sauté Flying Ants with Greens! (By the way, they also eat it raw!)  I did try it, it was not that bad…it was just like eating…um, well, insects…:)

south sudan

Well, that is not yet the most difficult ordeal I have to go through.  Bathing, pooing and peeing are what I call the worst in humanitarian hardship.    I have never cursed my being a woman because of these toilet issues!  I struggled a lot on this aspect especially as I am the only woman in the team.

Sometimes, we are lucky to find a public latrine nearby. Otherwise, we will do a makeshift latrine and bath area (my ass prefers this as it is more a ‘bit’ hygienic compared to the public latrine!) Or if not, tall bushes along the road or behind a big Mango tree will do. 🙂

south sudan

Top Photos: Public Latrine; Middle Photos: Makeshift Latrine; Lower Photos: Bathing Area

But in the midst of hardship, I had to find ways on how to divert my mind and not be affected by my difficult situation.  Here are some of my survival tactics:

When living in the tent is becoming unbearable, I would close my eyes and imagine I am camping in the wilderness of Australia.  When it is rainy and cold, I imagine camping in the highlands of Scotland.  It makes things more bearable just thinking of those beautiful places I have been to and reminisce those ‘gasm’ feelings I had during my travels.

I learned that in hardship situations, meditation and imaginations help a lot.  When I am fed up with eating canned foods or greens, I  would crave for something so I can focus on having it. So I will count the days till the end of the month when I can go back to the city  and treat myself with proper good food!

Lastly, being in tune with nature can have positive effects on mental and physical health creating balance in our inner ecology despite the ever changing environment.  The smell of wet earth after the rain, the amazing African sunset that brightly colors the horizon and the chirping of the birds in the morning are some of the reasons why I love working in the field.

Amidst these hardships, I have learned to relax, to accept and to go with the flow.  As what the saying goes, ” The more difficult it is to reach your destination, the more you will remember the journey. ”

Watch out for more on my survival tactics in my future posts…..

Categories: Africa, South Sudan, Wandering the Road Less Traveled: My Humanitarian Missions | Tags: | 13 Comments

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