Light of Siam and the Tsunami (part 2)

Previous

LODGE INVOLVEMENT

Brethren of the Light of Siam Lodge, have collected and disbursed relief funds, cared for the injured, coordinated the medical effort, visited the injured in hospital, fed and watered those fleeing the beaches, housed the dispossessed, gathered funds for schools and nurseries, acted as chauffeurs for tourists requiring flights or medical attention, or seeking lost ones, acted as embassy officers in the relief effort, built an orphan centre, repaired fishing boats, provided both replacement boats and fishing nets and are now responding to requests by the Embassies to help with the relatives of victims who will be visiting.
We have now identified our masonic relief effort with a long term plan to help the most vulnerable – the children of the poor who have been worst affected by the tsunami and the subsequent tourist famine.
We need the tourists back. But for the most vulnerable, it is already too late. They have turned to loan sharks. A £300 loan results in a daily interest payment of £7. You may think this a stupid loan to accept, but for a new widow now homeless and destitute with two surviving children, the need for mattresses, mosquito nets, a rice cooker, and some rudimentary shelter probably seemed worth the terrible interest payments. Of course she will have to take her children out of school and finally she will probably have to give her children to the loan shark to deal with the ballooning loan. We should not dwell on what will happen to the children then. Children are amongst the worst affected of Phuket’s citizens. Some are orphans, and sexual predators are already at work. We have heard terrible stories from Aceh in Indonesia.
The Thai Government has tried to help, but its facilities are in Bangkok, well away from whatever community support there is. The poorest families now have no jobs, no incomes, possibly no housing – the shanties obviously suffered worst. Even their little pre-existing possessions have gone.

OUR IMMEDIATE RESPONSE

The community around The Green Man Pub in Chalong raised over £50,000, which we have disbursed to victims. The whole atmosphere of the Village Fête from Middle England sprang to life on Patak Road, including battering the landlord with his own flour, eggs and water prior to adding tasteful garnishes of mayonnaise and tomato ketchup. He looked very tasty.
There were generous donations of prizes and very spirited bidding for them. A scuba cylinder sold for £200 as a customer bid strongly against her husband, only to donate it back to be sold again at £60, only to be onsold at £30 and then passed to someone who really needed it.
Cars were washed by bikini clad sirens, raffles and stalls raised. There was a tsunami stew, and a tsunami cocktail with proceeds to charity. Many raffle prizes were re-donated to the auction. The T-shirt, printed on salvaged stock, raised over £3,000 on the day, with demand still strong.
The most vulnerable people assisted have been humbling. Three separate women were given £70 relief, which was brought back subsequently. The Government had paid them compensation of £300, and they wanted our relief to be recycled. The manager of my business, who lost his possessions, refused our assistance because he has a job and a salary – others need it more.
We started a small relief effort for Phuket. We provided forms where they could tell us what they need: household effects, tools of trade, or a job. One reply reads ‘I want the tourists to come back and for it to be like it was’. This man needs to get back to work.
The first phase was emergency aid; people needed surgery, food, clothing and medicines. This phase lasted about two weeks. The second phase was emergency assistance; getting people home, getting people re-housed and re-schooled, and getting people back to work. That phase is almost complete. The third phase is long term support for those who need it most.
The Light of Siam Lodge has designed a project to house fifty orphans from the tsunami, and to support 200 additional children, largely single-parent children, and from the poorest and worst affected families, in a day care facility. We shall provide food, clothing and health care as required.
We want to give hope back to children who have lost their homes and families, have been molested by sexual predators or abused by commercial exploiters. We want to provide them with marketable skills, whatever that requires, up to and including university education for those that qualify and can benefit.
We shall deliver this through the structure of ChildWatch (http://www.childwatchphuket.org/ – link corrected, editor), a charity with a 10-year record of delivering this type of programme in Phuket.
We are looking for about £300,000 in capital costs, and up to £110,000 per year in running costs. We believe we have around £100,000 in capital and around £30,000 in running costs pledged for 3 years. We think the running costs will be the hardest thing to support, and are looking for future pledges from the Craft as well as a short term response.
Given the money we wish to invest, governance is a big issue. I am looking at a Standing Committee, probably made up of (ex-officio) the Almoner, the Master, the Immediate Past Master, the Treasurer, the Senior Warden, the Junior Warden and any other Brother and wives of Brethren who wish to be involved. This Committee will have the sole signatories within it who will release funds to ChildWatch against approved expenses.
The Grand Charity has now confirmed that they are giving to Light of Siam Lodge, No. 9791, £100,000 over three years to support the on-going costs of a project its members have created to help children.  They are working with ChildWatch, a local Thai charity, to house fifty orphans and provide support for an additional 200 in a day care centre.