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Several Visits to Koh Pratong

In February 2005, Rotary Club of Koh Samui, ROCKS, ‘adopted’ the village of Tung Dap on the island of Koh Pratong on the west coast of Thailand. This community had been impacted by the tsunami of December 26th 2004, and had suffered loss of life and total loss of their homes. A commitment was made to support this small community for a period of two years, and do everything possible to help them regenerate the village and provide education for the children. Within those two years, ROCKS members made several visits to the area, and especially to Tung Dap. The villagers always made their visitors very welcome, and when they were re-established in their island home, extended warm hospitality.

In April 2005, President Paul Hawkins and President Elect Paul Watson led a delegation of ROCKS members to the Kuraburi area to witness for themselves the devastation caused by the tsunami. Members included Adèle Smith who was Chair of the committee tasked with administering the funds, Rotarian Nicolas Emmert and former Rotarians Wally Smith, Linda Cartlidge and Dieter Haebe. The group met Bodhi Garret, leader of an NGO, North Andaman Tsunami Relief, NATR, who worked closely with ROCKS throughout their two year commitment. Bodhi had arranged for a villager to transport the group to Koh Pratong by long tail boat. The trip across the narrow strip of water in a long tail boat was hazard free, but disembarking on the beach was not easy! Then the group was faced with a two kilometer walk through a blighted landscape of dead trees, and ruined mangrove swamps. On arrival at the village, empty of its people and houses, they found evidence of rebuilding of the village school by the Swiss Government. It was a pleasing sight in the middle of so much devastation. The group returned to the mainland and met some of the villagers displaced by the tsunami, living in a row of shacks erected by the Thai Government. They were remarkably stoical in the face of such personal tragedy.

In May 2005, a smaller party returned to the area to see what progress had been made, and to discuss projects with Bodhi and NATR. Adèle and Wally Smith with Rotarian Peter Breaks and his wife, Poom, retraced the steps of the earlier trip, and once again crossed the narrow strait of water to the island. This time, they were able to get ashore more easily at a newly repaired pier. Transport awaited them in the form of a small tractor pulling a trailer. While it was not the most comfortable of rides, it was easier than walking the two kilometers to the village. On the way, the group noted that trees had started to show signs of life, particularly the cashew nuts. When they arrived, they were delighted to see that some villagers had moved back, anxious to return to their normal lives. Boats had been repaired and the men folk were able to start fishing again. Houses were being constructed, again courtesy of the Swiss Government. Peter’s wife, Poom was able to talk with the villagers, and learned that they were in need of basic medicines to help them. The group also examined the well and pump mechanism, which was the only source of water on the island, and had only recently ceased to be brackish. The group returned to the mainland much heartened by what they had witnessed.

In June 2005, another group made the journey, and found that things had moved on yet again. They also carried with them a gift of a large box of medicines, as promised during the previous visit. They were escorted by ‘wagon’ again, and while traveling through the mangrove swamps, saw evidence of replanting of these essential trees. The saplings had been sponsored by ROCKS, so it gratifying to see the results of this gift. Again the group witnessed more building, including a community centre, a vital centre of any village. There were also some children, evidence of returning confidence in the sustainability of life.

In September 2005, Adèle and Wally Smith again paid a visit. This time, they traveled by long tail boat through the mangrove swamps and were able to land directly in the village. They were amazed and delighted with the changes since June. The village was clearly thriving, with squid and crab pots being produced, and there was a small shop for fishing gear. There were more houses, each sporting a television aerial as the Thai Government had supplied solar panels to power televisions and lighting. The whole atmosphere was of bustle and busyness! There was even the start of a small garden near one of the houses. Before leaving, Adèle and Wally inspected a new playground for the children, furnished with equipment supplied by ROCKS. At the crucial moment of a ‘photo call’, no children were to be found to demonstrate the new equipment, so NATR volunteers and Wally were delighted to ‘play’ for the cameras. On return to the mainland, Wally and Adèle also visited a community, Bak Jok, which had been relocated to the mainland after being traumatized by the tsunami. There they had set up a community centre and were busy learning new skills. A group of them proudly showed off a model of Koh Pratong that they had crafted.

January 12th 2006 saw Adèle and Wally Smith making a special trip to Koh Pratong by special invitation to celebrate Thailand’s delightful holiday, National Children’s Day. They were fêted by their ‘adopted’ islanders, and joined in the fun and festivities. They also had the opportunity to travel across the island and see the extensive cashew nut plantations, which are an additional source of income for the communities there. Their final, and alarming task was to judge the results of an Art Competition, set by President Paul Watson during a previous visit when he asked the children to make a drawing of their school showing a Rotary Wheel somewhere in the picture. A daunting task considering the children’s ages ranged from 4 to 12!

March 2006 found Adèle and Wally Smith making the familiar journey once again. This time they were accompanied by President Paul Watson, and visiting Sister Club Rotarian from Torquay in England, Geoff Coop and his wife. The main purpose of the visit was to visit a new Training and Education Centre, TREC, for the whole of the Kuraburi area. This enterprise was entirely funded by Houston and Texas Rotary Clubs, who channeled considerable funds through ROCKS, and entrusted ROCKS to give full accounting of funds spent. The group carried with them signage for the new centre, acknowledging the sponsorship. On arrival in Tung Dap, the party was able to see further improvements. The school now had a canteen area, and there were more houses. They met a group of children coming out of school, and riding donated bicycles with a great deal of fun and laughter. More important, there was a warning tower that had been erected by the Thai Government, and designed to give early warning of an approaching tsunami, if such were to happen again. Back in Kuraburi, the group saw the newly opened TREC building, and presented NATR with their signboard. They also met volunteers teaching English and computing skills in various classrooms. The building also housed examples of handicrafts produced by various villages; hand made gift cards made from recycled paper, beautiful model Moken boats made from mangrove wood and handmade soaps.

In April 2006, a large contingent of ROCKS members traveled to Tung Dap for the opening of a Water Tower and escape platform. Please see report under ‘Water Tower’ for a full account of this major project.

The last visit to the village of Tung Dap was made in October 2006. President Rico Stapel, President Elect Adèle Smith, Rotarians Wally Smith and Janet Pride made this final journey. It was a trip filled with both hope and sadness, as they were aware that it was time to leave the villagers to get on with their lives without the reminders of the tragedy that they wished to put behind them. As always, they were greeted with courtesy and warm hospitality, and an excellent lunch! President Elect Adèle then took great pleasure in presenting the children with gifts of sports equipment. The group were also able to see the result of a generous donation from Geoff Coop’s Rotary Club in England, Tormohun, which had funded the sinking of a deep well to supplement the water supply to the Water Tower. The children happily demonstrated the quality of the water in the well! The party was also shown an incinerator constructed by the villagers to deal with any waste that could not be recycled. They had become aware since their return to their island home, of the importance of taking care of the environment, and every week, the children were tasked with collecting any litter in their locality, and sorting it into recyclable waste and waste for incineration. ROCKS members were heartened to see this new awareness in the village. The most important message that they took away with them was that the villagers did not need them any more, which meant that ROCKS had fulfilled its promise in its entirety.

The next task by ROCKS members was to visit the TREC centre, and present them with a banner listing all donors to NATR over the two years of ROCKS commitment. Apart from ROCKS itself, Rotary Clubs of Tahoe City, Houston and Texas and Tormohun had pride of place, as did the Swiss Government who had done so much in construction of the school, houses and boats. The final task was to visit a school to the South of Kuraburi which had been given a coat of paint courtesy of ROCKS. The school had been engulfed by the tsunami, and its exterior had gradually become coated with black fungus. A bright and fresh coat of paint raised everyone’s morale, and the teachers were delighted to say a personal ‘thank you’ to ROCKS members.

ROCKS members then made their sad farewells, though lightened by the promise of a return visit of Tung Dap villagers to Koh Samui in the New Year.