Unification News for June 2005

SFP Tsunami Relief Efforts

Phuket, Thailand -- The initial efforts of Service for Peace (SFP) in southern Thailand began shortly after the tsunami on December 28 last year and started with activities similar to other relief organizations including helping to clear debris, collecting DNA to identify bodies of tsunami victims, preparing and distributing food, aiding in the general reconstruction of loss of property and helping to curtail the spread of communicable disease.

The SFP college student volunteers began to see that despite all this activity to reconstruct the villages of the Thai people, a greater need had been overlooked, the support needed to reconstruct their lives. This was evident in the most vulnerable population in the villages that we worked, the children, many of whom who were either newly orphaned or left with only parts of their families in tact.

SFP staff in Thailand consulted with several peer humanitarian organizations active in the region including Habitat for Humanity to see if this was in fact a need that they recognized as well. Sangkom Netsopa, the local SFP representative said, "We found that the Young People Development Center (YPDC), a local youth camp and several other organizations had been facing the same issue of how to help the children regain a sense of normalcy and security in their daily lives."

SFP worked together with the Korean Volunteer Council to mobilize over 160 volunteers working together with around 65 local volunteers. The volunteers focused their efforts on the resource challenged schools in the villages of the Pang-nga Province surrounding the Phuket resort area to mentor the children with tutoring and cultural events to heal their fear that the tsunami will come again and take away more of their friends and loved ones. Volunteers chaperon groups of children on outing to the sea to swim and play on the beach or outings to the zoo and museums in the resort areas that are usually frequented by only Europeans, Americans and wealthy Asians.

Volunteers helped in the restoration efforts of the villages and consoled the children who were traumatized by the sudden loss of parents, friends, teachers, friends and substantial loss of property and infrastructure. SFP volunteers identified the most vulnerable populations that have been marginalized even before the recent tragedy with limited resources the provide primary school education. SFP volunteers inspired the children envision a bright future for their villages. The activities included building temporary housing, renovating school buildings and enhancing the environment around the schools. Volunteers advocate for increased access to higher education for youth in the villages. To this end, volunteers are coordinating fundraising drives to provide scholarships for village children, lunch support, computers and other materials needed to the develop the schools in the villages.

One of the SFP disaster relief volunteers in southern Thailand, Gu Bon Sik, a 23-year-old, fitness instructor from Daegu, Korea, was snorkeling around Phi Phi Island when the tsunami appeared. Rescued to safety by a local Thai, he then returned to Korea . Emotionally distressed, he consulted with a professor of psychology who advised he return to the location where the trauma occurred to process his feelings.

Gu Bon Sik reported, "When I first visited Phi Phi Island after tsunami, I was trembling with fear and wanted to hide somewhere. When our team arrived at Phi Phi Island I couldn't stop crying which made the other participants uncomfortable. I was able to gradually regain a positive outlook by participating in the CGL [Creativity, Games and Leisure] mentoring program. I overcame my negative feelings and faced my fears by investing myself into the mentoring program drawing, playing games and other activities with the children."

The international character of the college volunteers helps to fuel the excitement and distracts the children from the loss that surrounds them everyday. The language problems are overcome to a large degree by performing cultural activities. The volunteers teach songs in their native language and provide skits to entertain the children.

Plans for the Future

Charles Phillips, International CEO of SFP said, "To create a sustainable program we have worked to build significant partnerships with college student clubs at the Prince Songhkla University in Muang, Phuket. We have also mobilized our worldwide college student club network in America, Europe, Japan, Korea and other Southeast Asian countries to continue to raise funds and to supply ongoing international volunteers to the region."

SFP, in conjunction with local partner organizations such as Young People Development Center (YPDC) has made a 2-year commitment to maintain a full time presence in the villages of the Pang-nga Province working specifically in three elementary schools to conduct long term mentoring and youth development programs.

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