By J.S. Fletcher and Kathy M. Newbern © 2010
Cyclone Nargis blew across Myanmar (formerly Burma) on May 2, 2008, to become the worst natural disaster in the recorded history of the country. Wind speeds hit 135 mph, with sustained speed of 105 mph. Catastrophic flooding occurred. An estimated 138,000 people were killed; it’s likely thousands more went uncounted. Property damage was over $10 billion.
Relief efforts came from around the world, but several factors bogged down effective delivery of goods: the government was reticent to accept aid from certain countries (the US among them); items donated were not efficiently distributed and some found their way to the black market; and 10 days after Nargis, China was rocked by a massive earthquake that took nearly 90,000 lives and caused $85 billion in damage, unfortunately overshadowing Myanmar’s plight.
As we’ve seen on our trip through Southeast Asia, the people are tough, resilient, and live in situations that would test the mettle of most others. Throughout Myanmar, most people live in conditions most Americans would classify as poverty level. In other words, they know how to live with very little, but what many faced on the morning of May 2 when Nargis was tearing up their world was beyond a test. It was survival.
Fortunately, altruistic people stepped up to help their own and to help strangers. The luxury tour company Abercrombie & Kent (A&K) was one group that immediately got involved.
According to their account: “Immediately after Cyclone Nargis hit, Abercrombie & Kent Myanmar’s 16 employees in Yangon gathered $5,000 worth of essential supplies such as rice, drinking water, cooking oil, medicine, clothing and temporary shelter for delivery by truck to the Irrawaddy Delta. Staff members accompanied the shipment and personally distributed the aid, one of the first shipments to arrive in Pathein, where thousands of refugees gathered after the storm. Due to the current political situation, much of the assistance had to be done carefully and quietly.
“A&K Philanthropy (AKP) donated an additional $10,000 in immediate aid and directed fundraising efforts through Friends of Conservation to ensure that 100% of all monies collected went to purchasing and distributing life-saving supplies. A&K’s Yangon office coordinated efforts to purchase food and supplies in parts of the country unaffected by the cyclone, such as Inle Lake and Bagan, to avoid the hugely inflated prices in Yangon.
“On the eighth day after the storm, an A&K team reached the village of Ta Pyan Gyi, where they discovered 279 survivors in a church, the only building left standing. This was the first aid they received. The next day the A&K team temporarily relocated 41 of the women and children to a church in Yangon, and 67 additional women and children followed later that week. The men remained behind to start to rebuild the village and replant their rice fields; the village faced another crisis in October if they did not start replanting immediately.”
A&K raised a half-million dollars for cyclone relief, and Max Horsley, who runs the local office in Yangon, did a selfless job of helping the local people. It is one thing for a tour company to provide great travel service, but it is quite another for one to participate so magnanimously to lead the way for relief.
The death toll was horrendous, but another situation was equally horrific: orphans. Babies, kids, teenagers found themselves alone to fend for themselves or perish. On another terrifying level, abduction, slavery, and prostitution claimed lives and souls that will never be recorded.
AKP has made a continuing commitment to help the thousands of children orphaned by the disaster. Among the children’s initiatives are:
• $20,000 directly benefited the Hpu Saw Bu orphanage in Maung Mya. Pre-Nargis, the home housed nine children. Afterward, the home cares for 92 children, including 33 girls and 59 boys, 4 to 20 years old. Support pays for food, clothing, education, medical care and staff salaries. Additional funds have also been granted to build a kitchen.
• $10,000 was allocated to Grace’s Orphanage, an orphanage A&K has supported for some years prior to the cyclone.
• $50,000 was used to purchase additional land and construct The Norfolk House, a new facility for the Mingilar Children’s Home in Yangon, and outfit the home with everything it needs – bedding, appliances, furniture, etc. This non-affiliated, non-profit home was started by A&K guide (Goldene – our guide) who takes in children of all creeds and colors from all over Myanmar.
Thank God for individual people like Goldene, our A&K guide; other groups of people who acted to help their own; relief agencies and church groups; and philanthropic organizations like AKP to come through for others in this time of need.
Our Orphanage Visit
Only the boys were at their temporary house while we visited; the girls had a break to visit relatives who had been located but were unable to take them in for various reasons. We quickly understand how important Goldene’s effort was.
The living conditions were spare, as you will see in the slideshow, but adequate, and their mood was terrific. They happily gave us a tour, played a little soccer with us in their front yard, and sang Christmas songs for us they’d learned at their school.
Afterward, we all went to visit their new house that was under construction. They were very excited to show it to us, so they piled into a taxi, while we, Goldene and our driver met them there, and Max joined us, too. The Norfolk House is being built with funds provided by the very generous Norfolk family from the UK.
The walls were up as was the roof, but the electricity, plumbing, windows and such had not gone in. We were happy to hear donations were coming in to help furnish the inside and complete the grounds.
The boys proudly showed us where their rooms would be, and were especially thrilled to point out the larger yard for their soccer play. Our most recent update as of November 18th on The Norfolk House orphans is that there are 13 kids (10 boys and 3 girls) and that they are going to be able to move from the temporary house into the new house in early 2011. Funds are still needed for final touches, furniture, and ongoing expenses.
If you would like to donate to the orphanage, please do. Here is how:
1. Go to www.akphilanthropy.org,
2. Go to the bottom of the page and click DONATE
3. Go to the bottom of that page and click Make a Donation
4. Because it is not listed as one of the specific projects (it’s small), choose “General Donation” and put your instructions in the open field: “Message”
5. The message should read: “I want this donation to go to The Norfolk House Orphanage Project in Yangon, Myanmar, that I read about in an article by Fletcher/Newbern.”
6. Pat yourself on the back and feel good about making such a difference in some kids’ lives.
The donation is handled completely by A&K Philanthropy, which is fully registered and accredited. We have nothing to do with it.
According to its website: “100% of your charitable gift to Abercrombie & Kent Philanthropy goes directly to support local projects worldwide. Abercrombie & Kent Philanthropy is established in the United States as a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization; your charitable gift is tax deductible as provided by law. General & Administrative expenses are borne by the A&K Group so that 100% of your donations flow directly to projects.”
Until you’ve been there, you cannot understand that a little can me a lot.
This story is part of a series on our Abercrombie & Kent adventure to Thailand, Myanmar, and Cambodia. A&K is a leading provider of luxury travel services worldwide. To reach them, call 800-554-7016 or visit www.abercrombiekent.com.
If you enjoyed this story, you might also enjoy these:
• Other Stories by JS Fletcher
• Stories by Kathy M. Newbern, Luxury Travel Examiner
International Travel Examiner J.S. Fletcher and spouse, Kathy M. Newbern, report on luxury destinations, spas and cruising around the globe. They are award-winning members of the Society of American Travel Writers and created YourSpaReport.com and YourNovel.com, their personalized romance novel business.