U students provide aid in Thailand

By By Jaime Winston

By Jaime Winston

When Lindsay Hadley arrived in Khao Lak, Thailand, the humid air carried the scent of spice as children performed backflips off of elephants for tips along the beachfront. It was hard for her to tell the area had been ravaged by a tsunami in 2004, until she visited the Home and Life orphanage.

One of the boys she met at the orphanage was left alone after his mother was killed in the tsunami and his father became an alcoholic. Another child lost his parents and five siblings in the catastrophe.

“All of the hotels and restaurants and tourist attractions on the beach have been rebuilt,” Hadley said. “But it’s the people in the little communities and villages who have been forgotten.”

Hadley, a U graduate in sociology and international service coordinator for YouthLINC, surveyed the needs of the orphans and community for a service trip sponsored by YouthLINC, a program that sponsors international service work for high school and college students. The new trip, to Khao Lak, was launched June 2 with 40 volunteers.

“We’re mostly going to be working with kids who are either orphaned by the tsunami or are in a poverty stricken situation where the parents can’t afford to care for them,” Hadley said. “Just the location and the way the waves came in, it hit full force in this area and there was a lot of devastation.”

Some of the projects on the itinerary include English lessons and refurbishing the orphanage with beds, furniture and clean water. The children will also make crafts and participate in a fun fair set up by volunteers.

“We’re not looking to create Disneyland for everyone,” Hadley said. “We’re just looking for basic needs that they’re entitled to.”

Judy Zone, executive director for YouthLINC, was alerted to the issues facing the community by the 4kali.org Foundation, a group set up to raise funds for Thailand in honor of Kali Briesch, a teenager from Utah killed in the tsunami while visiting Thailand.

Zone said one of the communities the group will work with, in addition to the orphans, is the Moken people who live on boats along the coast as part of their culture.

“It appears that no Mokens were killed in the tsunami, but they did lose their boats,” Zone said.

The Moken people have had to adapt to life on dry land. YouthLINC is working with the Rotary Club, an international service organization, to help the Moken people regain their lifestyle.

Britnie Anderson, U graduate student in elementary education and team leader for the trip, said hygiene kits and clothing are being prepared to donate to Mokens impacted by the tsunami.

“Once you’ve seen people living in abject poverty and return to a country with everything at your fingertips, it’s really hard to bounce back to that life,” Anderson said.

To prepare the group, Anderson has stressed the importance of not being an “ugly American.” She said it’s important for the volunteers to embrace the environment in Thailand, which is often more quiet and calming than the United States.

Most importantly, she doesn’t want the group to impose American culture on the Thai people.

“The goal is not to go in to change the people but to improve their health and living situations, but by all means I never want to change those people,” she said.

Allison Stayner, U alumna in behavioral and health science, said she joined the trip because she felt it served a community in desperate need.

“We’re trying to get away from the tourist spots and mainly focus on the rural area,” Stayner said. “I think a lot of people have forgotten about them. It’s been so long.”

Stayner and other student volunteers had to complete 80 hours of local service to join the trip. YouthLINC is also sending students on service excursions to Kenya, Peru and Mexico this summer.

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Lindsay Hadley, a youth LINC International Service Coordinator, visited Thailand in March of 2007 with the youth program. This June the Youth Program will continue their work with the children in Thailand.