The devastating Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar on 2 May, leaving many in dire circumstances. People lost their loved ones, their homes and/or livelihood, while survivors have had to continue to struggle to meet their basic needs, deal with grief, uncertainty and also brave the continuing monsoon season.
This is the reality of the aftermath of the Cyclone disaster, which has left more than 134,000 dead or missing and as many as 2.4 million people in need of help1. While, Cyclone Nargis has brought about great destruction to lives and homes, it has also brought about a ‘tsunami’ of love and concern, as people from around the world give generously, doing their part to help the victims.
Back home in Singapore, The Salvation Army mobilized its staff and volunteers. This was by way of prayer support or serving as fundraising volunteers to aid relief operations being carried out by The Salvation Army in Myanmar.
On the 15 May, The Salvation Army took to the streets for a day to raise funds for the Army’s relief operations in Myanmar. We needed volunteers to help man the pots and ring the bells as they appealed to the public to contribute generously.
In Myanmar, the local Salvation Army personnel were doing their utmost to dispense food, clean water, tarpaulins and other relief items for the victims in Yangon District. For example, both the Children’s Homes in Yangon, by the grace of God, suffered minor damage. Their were kept running to pump water from the artesian wells, providing water to all in the community who needed it. It was a challenge to mobilise, recruit and schedule volunteers at such a short notice, to help with the appeal. However, I soon came to realise staff from the various Salvation Army centres, programmes and corps were stepping forward to help fill up shifts for the street appeal. Members of the public were also calling in to ask how they could help. Many Myanmar nationals were also calling in, seeking opportunities to lend a hand for their own people in need.
I was especially touched when I came to know of a Burmese family volunteering to man a pot for a whole eight-hour period. When I visited them that evening, I could see that, despite having already manned the pot for hours, they still took the effort to greet every donor. They gently lifted up the pot for the donors to put in their contributions, while sincerely acknowledging and thanking them for their donations. At another location, a senior couple was also volunteering for the cause. What made this couple so special is their continued dedication, year after year; always returning to help with The Salvation Army’s Christmas Kettle Appeal. This time round, they immediately responded to the call for volunteers as soon as it went out. Frankly, it is meeting volunteers like these which has made me come to cherish and appreciate my job more. It’s always exhilarating to meet people who have the passion to help, the interests of others in their hearts and who step forward to make a difference.
The one-day street appeal raised some S$80,000, but help does not just stop there… Besides volunteering to man the appeal pots and ring the bells, some volunteers went a step further and initiated their own fundraising projects. In the span of a few days, I learnt of companies, schools and even interest groups coming together to offer their time, skills and money, in aid of the cyclone victims. One such group, which left a deep impression on me, was PhotoAid. PhotoAid is an initiative by a group of volunteer photographers in Singapore, who come together to offer their time and skills to help others. They had previously put together a similar project in aid of the Asian Tsunami disaster in 2004. This time round, they were putting together a fundraiser offering people the opportunity to have their photo taken with the Singapore Merlion. In return for the photo, they asked for a minimum of S$10 donation for each print.
When I visited them over one of the weekends, I saw how everyone was going about their respective roles cheerfully. It humbled me to know and see people who would spent their weekends under the hot sun, working hard to help people they do not even know. What further impressed me was how professional their operation had been: with a designated photo taking tent, photo collection tent and a system to have donors collect their print and subsequently to be able to retrieve their photos from an online platform. The volunteers were all smiles and friendly, even offering to take photos for the donors using the donors’ cameras. Their warmth and professionalism touched me and I respect them for their dedication. So to all the volunteers and staff who made a big difference during the Myanmar Cyclone Disaster Relief Appeal, I say a big ‘thank you’ for showing your love, for others you do not know…
Volunteer Resources Manager
The Salvation Army
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