NAM KEM, Thailand – Driving through tsunami-ravaged villages in southern Thailand, I came upon a sight that hit me harder than any other I've witnessed in this hard-hit region.
As the van I was traveling in left the leveled village of Nam Kem (search), I looked out the window and saw a young girl going to the bathroom along the road, right in front of a home that had withstood the tsunami (search) waves. I looked at the faces of the girl and her mother and saw the heartbreak in their eyes. It was then that I realized these people have such a long struggle ahead.
Thailand seems to be ahead of the rest of the region when it comes to recovering from the tsunami. The infrastructure here emerged more intact and the Thai government and military have already made tremendous headway, but so much must still be done for the people.
In Nam Kem and a few other fishing villages like it, most if not all fishing boats were destroyed. The piers and docks were obliterated. If you walk along the shore you can see where homes once stood by looking down at the bright blue Mosaic tiled floors now covered in sand and chunks of cement that look like an archaeological dig.
People have been left to live in a refugee camp, or in some cases on a mattress in a gutted shop or home. At noon in the middle of the heat and heavy air, I saw people line around a couple of Toyota trucks and in front of a building that somehow was still standing. Survivors mobbed people distributing food, fruit and water, but everyone received something. No one was left behind.
Two U.S. Green Berets were there. Within hours of their arrival they were on the ground assessing where U.S. aid needed to go. They were helping the Thai government and military figure out who needed help first, which buildings needed to be leveled, which roads needed to be rebuilt and how to facilitate the money and other donations being offered by U.S. companies and people.
For example, the Thais said they'd rather have money donated to build a boat than for someone to buy a boat and ship it there. It's all about the old adage, "If you give someone a fish they eat for a day; if you teach someone to fish they eat for a lifetime." Donating money to build a boat allows the building process to be passed along to the next generation.
The way of life here coincides with the shallow waters and the marine life on the eastern edge of the Indian Ocean. The dilemma donor nations face is how to help these people recover and rebuild without doing so much for them that their lives are changed and they become dependent rather than independent.
Our crew left Nam Kem behind. Our second trip there was as eye-opening as our first journey. As the young girl and her mother quickly disappeared out the back window of our van, I could only hope their immediate future brought hope and a roof over their head. I hoped I could return to the village to see it rebuilt and to see people back on their boats, working at their businesses and living in their homes.