Asian Tsunami Heros

Monday, May 23, 2005

Myanmar tsunami response in the hands of the people

With her little hand in his and her small bare feet moving at double the rate to keep up with him, the girl in the faded rose-pink dress and the tall teenage boy once again set off to follow the twisting and uneven stone path down to the shore.

In some places it is crossed by a small stream of brown-coloured water, which necessitates a short jump. Then the path narrows again, the low vegetation of bushes and mangrove closing in ominously. This is a place where it helps to know your way around.

Fortunately, 14-year-old Naing Lin Tun did, and that was probably one of the factors that saved the life of four-year-old Aye Mar the day the ‘Black Wall’ hit this village of seasonal migrant fishermen in the southernmost part of Myanmar’s Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) Delta.

As the waters brought by the tsunami receded, Naing Lin Tun was coming down the path to the beach. Suddenly he saw the body of the little girl in the muddy, wet grass.

“I tried to see if she was still breathing, checking her pulse and there it was,” Naing Lin Tun says.

“All I knew was that I somehow had to take her to the clinic, so I lifted her up over my shoulder and hurried along.”

As he struggled to reach the dusty road above the village, he longed for somebody to help him.

But there was no one.

What could he do? He looked around but all he could see was a blue trailer jeep. It would be a bumpy ride, for sure, but did he really have a choice? He promptly placed the girl on the bed of the trailer and took off for the three kilometre long drive through the forest.

Near the clinic, 50-year-old Daw Khin San was about to learn that the first aid training she had received some 30 years ago was still going to save lives.

It was as though she had done it only yesterday, she says, as the memories come back: tilt the head back, open the airway, mouth tightly over the nose and mouth, then blow some quick, shallow breaths and carefully watch and wait for the chest to rise.

“Of the five children brought here, I managed to help three back to life again. It’s sad I couldn’t save them all but without the first aid, I wouldn’t have been able to help anyone at all,” she says and smiles at Aye Mar who is patiently listening.

To the people of the Ayeyarwady Delta, preparedness is a crucial issue, since they regularly have to cope with seasonal floods, water shortages and fires, as well as outbreaks of communicable diseases such as malaria, diarrhoea, measles and dengue fever.

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