18 June 2008

Ordeal of a Brave Mother - Myanmar

This story was posted on the Columban Members' website last Tuesday, 17 June. I haven't done any editing on it, though I have highlighted the second last paragraph.

Ordeal of a Brave Mother - Myanmar

As told to a volunteer worker

Ma San is a 46 year old woman living in Aye han Village part of Laputta Township. We found her in Laputta being treated for severe dehydration.

She has a husband, a 14, 11, and 6 year old sons and a daughter less than a year old. They were happily living in their village eking out a small income from her husband’s job as a fisherman and a small vegetable farm in their backyard.

Her family along with her neighbors had heard of the coming storm but didn’t take it seriously as they had weathered many storms in the past. Unknown to them, this storm was different. A storm that will attract international attention because of the devastation it will create.

In the afternoon of the 2nd of May 2008, wind had picked up and battered their small house made of bamboos, palms leaves, and other light materials. They went on with their daily afternoon routine. She was cooking and preparing dinner for her family, her husband is cleaning the house, and their children are sitting and playing with one another. After having their meal, they got ready for bed thinking that the rain would pass and they would be safe. The sheer force of the storm proved them wrong.

At around 11 at night she was awoken by the noise caused by the winds. She recalled it as “like trees hitting against each other”. She grew worried and afraid that she woke her husband and their children. The wind was so fierce and strong that they were afraid that their house will be blown away by the wind. This made them run out of their house and they hugged onto a coconut tree near their house. Her husband tied two of the oldest boys in their family to his waist with some clothes while Ma San tied her 6 year old son to her waist, just like her husband did, and securing the less than a year old baby in one arm while her other arm grabbed hold of the tree.

It was at this time that they have seen a wall of sea water approaching them. She cannot forget the picture of the surging wave, about 15 feet tall almost touching the top of the coconut trees, rushing towards her and her family. This storm surge was new to them as they are a couple of miles inland.

The wave hit her and her family with such ferocity that the clothes binding her two elder sons to her husband bore no resistance. Immediately after the surging water hit them, she saw her two older sons being swept away by the current. Right then and there, she knew that she had just lost two of her children. She was holding on to the tree with all the might she could muster with her baby clutched in her other hand. When the water subsided just enough to let her see her surrounding, she found out that her husband and the six year old child that she had tied in her waist with a cloth were gone, swept away with the current. A second wave hit her and she lost hold with her youngest child. Upon realizing that she had just lost her husband and four children she lost all hope of living and let go of the tree and was swept away by the current. She thought that she must have hit something which caused her to faint and that was the last thing she remembered.

Miraculously, she found herself alive, covered with debris and other things that the rushing water brought with it. She can not remember what day it was or how long she had been unconscious. She tried to get hold of reality and upon scanning her surroundings, she was completely disoriented and didn’t know where she was. She couldn’t find anyone and any landmarks that might give her a hint on her location. Nothing was left, everything was destroyed by the same force of nature that cost the lives of her entirely family.

She started thinking that she had been swept by the current towards north and decided to continue walking upriver in the hope of finding a village or anyone near the river. She knew the area well and knew that most of the villages are situated near the shore of the river. She thought that will be the likely area that she might finnd some other fortunate survivors.

As she was walking she would occasionally pass by an area which was once a village. Materials of houses are everywhere, trees were uprooted, and dead bodies everywhere. At night, she could barely find a place to sleep. The image of her family kept running through her mind. She walked for seven days along the river and on the seventh day, as luck would have it, she spotted a boat and began to shout. Fortunately, someone on the boat had spotted her. She survived for seven days without anything to eat and drank water from the river which she described as salty because of the sea water that came rushing inland.

She had her first decent meal in the boat for days but she was too weak already from her seven day struggle to stay alive. She got wounds and scratches all over her body but miraculously survived the ordeal that she’d been through.

When we found her she was crying as she was narrating her story. In between her sobs, we could hear her say: “What is to become of me now? I have lost my entire family and I have no one to go to. My future is as dark as the night sky. It could’ve been better if I too had joined my family.”

The story of Ma San and her family is just one of the heart rending and sad stories of real life experiences of people who had lost part or in cases the whole of their family from the natural disaster. The devastation that struck the people of Myanmar and the lack of support from the military has etched a deep wound, deeper than any other wounds inflicted by any human being. A wound that will take years to heal and has changed everyone’s life forever.

The group and I returned to the main town of Laputta a day after our trip and purchased a 1.5 liter bottle of water. We were surprised to see a mark on the bottle. The mark read: Donated by the People of Thailand. Then and there, it struck us. This is where the thousands and millions of relief goods donated by other countries is finishing up. It ended up in the market being sold by the military to the people who direly needed them.

Unless these people receive help soon, they will die of starvation, diseases, and dehydration.

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