On our arrival back to Langkawi in Mid January, 2005 a group of people had banded together under the auspices of ‘Waves of Mercy’ to give relief to the islands just west of Banda Aceh, Sumatera. This group consisted of people who appeared to be experienced relief workers, Global Sikhs (a non-political and non-affiliated religious group) and yachties. A super yacht captain had a calling and resigned from his position to undertake the co-ordination of this relief effort.
These islands had been overlooked by other aid agencies as emergency relief on the nearby mainland had been overwhelming. Being non-political ‘Waves of Mercy’ were greeted with open arms. We were assisting the loading of ferries – medical supplies, rice, water, fresh food, bedding, clothing, cooking implements and the like. When the fresh food arrived on these islands, it had been 3 weeks since the people had eaten anything else besides rice.
There are some wonderful stories that have come out of this. The island chief was asked what they needed most. His request of three fishing boats to start fishing was met a week later. Apparently the look on his face when he saw the ferry come in with his boats was a magic! One of the boats was purchased from a Malay fisherman who did not want to go back to sea again. The fishing boats included outboards and fuel. The remaining relief is to provide exactly what the people need, not what we think they might need.
‘Waves of Mercy’ claim that 98% of funds were used directly for aid. The other 2% went to wards hire of the ferries and fuel. An impressive feat.
The loading of the ferries in itself involved human chains. It was much more efficient than using machinery, although a crane was used to load pallets on the ferry at one stage and there was a lot of waiting around until the pallet was unloaded and then to wait for the next one. Down stairs was air conditioned…a good place to hang out! Malay music was blaring from any available outlet, so the only thing to do was to dance to the music in between catching 10kg bags of rice. There was great camaraderie between fellow yachties. We were all trying to work out who were the couples. That would be a great ice-breaker one day to match up people, providing your reasoning!
The start of the SW monsoon in May heralded the end of the ‘Waves of Mercy’ as the seas become too dangerous for the local ferry to make the journey.
Many yachties had also been in Phuket helping out where they could. Many of us stopped in Phi Phi island and offered our assistance ashore with the clean up operations. We had anchored there in March after the Tsunami in Ton Sai Bay. The week we were there, divers found a whole house in tact in 12 m of water. We wondered what our anchor might bring up!
Many of the yachties did extraordinary things to assist where they could. Backchat (Fremantle) organized their own relief fund and helped to rebuild some houses of fishermen in a bay in Phuket. Many fishermen did not receive adequate assistance from the government.
(12 months later we were to discover similar stories across the Indian Ocean. Much of the aid money had been diverted by the governments into tourist infrastructure. One of the wonderful men who looked after us in Sri Lanka was still living in a makeshift UN shelter. He had to have papers to prove to the government that he had a house before they would provide the funds for him to re-build. Of course the papers were destroyed along with his house in the tsunami. Many people wanted to share their stories…just because.)