Monks and celebrities step up relief efforts

May 20, 2008 (DVB), The cyclone rescue team led by comedian Zarganar and actor Kyaw Thu has been escalating its aid provision to victims in the worst-hit areas of Irrawaddy and Rangoon divisions.

The team now distributes relief supplies worth 6.5 million kyat a day to victims sheltering in one place and the provision reaches four to five locations every day. The team currently has over 400 members.

The rescue team has been given a helping hand by monks, celebrities from the Burmese film industry, writers and musicians.

Ordinary citizens who donate cash and voluntary labour to collect dead bodies have also joined the team.

Zarganar told DVB that activist Phyu Phyu Thin, who has been assisting HIV/AIDS patients, had been on board today.

DVB recently interviewed Zarganar to find out the latest situation of the rescue team and its relief programmes.

Zarganar: At the moment, there are about 18 villages in Latputta and Myaung Mya in Irrawaddy division which we still cannot reach. We cannot drive there because the roads were destroyed by the storm; nor can we ride boats due to the trees and wood floating along the way. From tomorrow onwards, we will be trying to use bigger boats to get there but we don't know if we will be able to since heavy rain keeps falling. We have now had eight boats arranged by abbot U Nyarneikthara.

In Rangoon division, our team members today arrived in hard-hit areas such as Kongyankone, Dadaye and Tontay and carried out aid distribution. Writers and film groups also arrived in Kyaiklat through Maaupin. In eastern Rangoon, our members were in Toegyaunggalay today. In No. 111 section of South Dagon new town, where people are sheltering in a football field, we built tanks for cyclone survivors and gave them food , rice soup in the morning and rice in the evening.

DVB: How much aid do you provide on daily basis?

Zarganar: Today, we spent 6.5 million kyat in Bogalay, 6.5 million kyat and Dadaye and another 6.5 million kyat in Kyaiklat and Maaupin.

DVB: Who are the main donors? Are they all from the film industry?

Zarganar: No, celebrities from film industry are among the donors. For example, Nay Toe, Aindra Kyaw Zin, Lwin Moe, Lu Min and Myo Sandi Kyaw are donating as much clothing and cash as they can every day. Also, many people have contacted us to make donations. Some donate 4000 to 5000, some 400,000 to 500,000 and some 100,000 to 200,000. They also donate money to the Free Funeral Service run by Kyaw Thu.

DVB: How are you working on food and shelter?

Zarganar: We are building 12x12ft and 9x12ft water-proof tanks where people can sleep. They are made from plastic sheeting. We bought plastic rolls and sewed the tanks ourselves. We also have a cooking team to prepare food for victims in Tontay and Maaupin, where our members visit briefly in the mornings. Our cooking team makes food at three different places for at least 4000 to 5000 people a day.

DVB: How many people do you have in your rescue team helping relief efforts now?

Zaganar: Over 400. I think 420 now?

DVB: How did they come to join the team?

Zarganar: After we were interviewed by DVB, RFA and VOA about our work, many people contacted us and the Free Funeral Service. Some said they wanted to donate money, some said they wanted to offer volunteer labour, some said they wanted to contribute both and some said they wanted us to use their trucks.

In the beginning we only had five people in the team but we now have over 420. We expect more will join us. Our members are not only from Rangoon but also from Bago, Prome and Min Hla. To our great surprise, 11 people came to us today with the specific offer that they wanted to work on collecting dead bodies so we let them join the Free Funeral Service.

DVB: Is the Free Funeral Service collecting dead bodies now in Bogalay and Latputta?

Zarganar: Yes. It is collecting bodies in Bogalay, Latputta, Ngaputaw and Mawlamyaingkyon. Tomorrow, a team comprising over 50 people including the 11 people that I just mentioned and other experts will go to Mawlamyaingkyon to find dead bodies.

DVB: Are you having any difficulties with your current activities? How do you think you will overcome the hardships you encounter?Zarganar: Everything is difficult. We can overcome the hardships only if we work together. The quickest and most effective way to help cyclone victims is cooperation. For instance, in Dadaye or Bogalay or Mawlamyaingkyon, there are still unreachable survivors there. The waterways are the only way to get there but we still cannot afford to visit them. How sad is that? They are like refugees sitting on an island surrounded by the water and waiting for the day to die. Shouldn't we save them? Or should we just let them die?

We should and want to save their lives at least from humanitarian point of view but how can we do that? We have boats but we can't get there because of the trees, wood and destroyed houses blocking our way. So, the only possible way to save them is using helicopters.

DVB: What do you mean by cooperation? Which organizations do you want to cooperate with?

Zarganar: I mean organizations with expertise in rescue efforts. You know how people's lives were saved in the tsunami and Marlar , using helicopters. There are many organizations in the world though.

Actor Wai Lu Kyaw and some team members are in Latputta, Nget Pyaw Kyaw and others are in Kyaiklat, Aye Yar and others are in Dadaye, Snow White and others are in Bogalay. They are living in temporary camps there and helping cyclone victims directly. Journalist Zaw Thet Htway, Si Thu Aung and team members, and musician Ye Lwin, San Lin, Thar Htway and other members are taking care of sending relief supplies from Rangoon to different places.

Reporting by Yee May Aung

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