Journal of DDM's relief effort in the cyclone-hit Burma

3 May (Sat)
* Burma ravaged by cyclone
On 3 May (Sat), Burma was hit by the tropical cyclone Nargis, with the Irrawaddy Delta being the most hard-hit area.

The impact was catastrophic with ninety five percent (95%) of buildings destroyed; tens of thousands of people lives lost and further hundreds of thousands displaced. Further to this initial devastation, the ongoing situation is deteriorating. After the destruction, due to the conservatism of the Burmese military junta, the release of information to the outside world was slow and it was also difficult for international aid to gain entry into the region.

6 May (Tue)

* DDM mobilised its members to provide aid
After DDM learned of the news on 6 May (Tue), a meeting was convened immediately to discuss the relief effort and a decision was made to send a relief team to the disaster area.

10 May (Sat)

* Difficult to obtain visas -DDM Relief Team's departure was delayed
Due to the difficulty in obtaining entry to Burma, visas were not granted until 10 May (Sat). The emergency relief team was made up of five members with Li Haozhuo as team leader, Chen Jiehui as deputy leader and other members including Zhong Wencheng, Ye Lienchang and Lien Shufeng (public health personnel).

As Burma's military junta does not welcome foreign aid operation groups, it was not possible for DDM to gain access into Burma without the whole-hearted assistance in the local region by our DDM member Cai Maiozhen's brother, Cai Fungcai and his wife, Mao Jilan.

*Meeting before departure and receiving blessings by Master Sheng Yen and Abbot President Guodong from Guoguang Fashi
At around 3 o'clock in the afternoon, the DDM relief team convened a meeting on the duties of the mission. They received a flag from Guoguang Fashi who passed on to them the blessings and instructions of Master Sheng Yen and Abbot President Guodong. The accompanying relief supplies totalling 172 boxes (2336kg) were packed by our volunteers from the Beitou District.

11 May (Sun)

*DDM Relief Team permitted to enter Burma and set off for the disaster area
The DDM relief team brought with them $1.5 million dollars of material supplies and departed for Rangoon on 11 May (Sun) on Mandarin Airlines 8.40am flight, arriving at Rangoon at 11.30am on the same morning. With the assistance of local Taiwanese businessmen, all relief supplies were cleared from customs.

*Sound planning for the distribution of supplies and action plan
After clearing customs, the DDM relief team immediately planned for the distribution of supplies. Due to various constraints by the local government and a ban on group gathering activities, the Taiwanese merchants suggested that the DDM team should keep a low profile. The relief team therefore decided to donate all medical supplies to the local Nongyou Hospital for long-term use to care for the poor and disadvantaged families. As for the distribution of basic necessities, the team will consider using appropriate and lawful distribution points to hand out supplies and to manifest DDM’s humanitarian spirit.

12 May (Mon)

*Assessment and visit to the disaster zone
At 10.00am, the DDM relief team went to the storage to organise the supplies, and head for the medium disaster zone in southern Rangoon to assess the needs of the victims.
The team visited Weisha Monastery and found the monastery significantly damaged, yet providing shelter to 34 monastics and 63 victims. Shortly after, the team went to the river banks and inspect the families living along the river. There are about 100 people in the area however the area was inaccessible as transport was blocked by huge fallen trees.

* Response to the needs of the disaster area
After inspection of the disaster areas, the team discovered that disaster victims tend to gather inside the monasteries, with each monastery accommodating at least 100 people. The team also found that supplies can be gradually purchased in Burma. The needs of the victims differed depending on the situation of the disaster area, although the common needs were food, clothing and water.

13 May (Tue)

* Distribution of supplies
The DDM team began to distribute supplies. In the morning they took basic living necessities for 200 people (water, oil cloths, instant food etc) to the Weisha Monastery in Rangoon. In the afternoon they took a boat to the monastery in Mula Village, carrying supplies for 100 people (dried food, oil cloths, water etc). As the rivers were blocked by huge trees, it was not easy to bring in supplementary supplies.

14 May (Wed)

*Heading into a hard-hit disaster zone -medical supplies were almost confiscated
The team moved into a hard-hit disaster zone where the houses along the river were thatched huts which could not sustain the blow of strong winds and huge waves. People and houses were hauled into the sea with most of the survivors seeking refuge in monasteries. Due to the scarcity of food which could only last for one day, the team distributed the bulk of its supplies here. As the members also carried medication and have to go through four military checkpoints with vigorous and intense investigations, the medical supplies were almost confiscated. After lengthy negotiations, the team and their supplies passed the investigations and were able to move forward.

15 May (Thur)

* Visit to Dillin
The DDM team went to the southern part of the country to a small town named Dillin which was a severely hit disaster area. The team divided the supplies into three lots, one lot was given to the monks (about 200-300 people) in the local area, the second lot was personally distributed to 125 household victims and the third lot was given to a local organisation for distribution to 250 household victims.

*Planning the route of relief operation, testing times physically and mentally
That evening the DDM team discussed visiting the second hardest hit zone on 16 (Fri) and 17 (Sat) May as the Irrawaddy Delta, the worst hit disaster area, was still out of bounds for foreign aid by the Burma military. Since the team has paid frequent visits to the disaster areas, they were tired and exhausted. Yet due to the urgent need of the victims, they overcame their physical and mental fatigue to complete the task.

16 May (Fri)

* Zhudao Fashi initiated action to bring further supplies to Rangoon
After learning about DDM's relief effort, Zhudao Fashi, a Burmese-Chinese who is studying at the National Cheng Kung University, contacted the Dharma Drum Social Welfare and Charity Foundation and offered to assist in Burma. Zhudao Fashi took the 3am flight to Rangoon, bringing with him DDM logo stickers and mosquito repellents requested by the relief team. He also raised an equivalent of NT$100,000 and passed the money to DDM for the purpose of providing aid to the victims. DDM was hoping to provide further material supplies, however due to the large number of Burmese who wanted to return home as soon as possible, and that flights to Burma were changed to smaller airline carriers, Mandarin Airlines could not provide the space for the goods on the flight.

*Enthusiastic participation and assistance by the Burmese-Chinese and local residents
Zhudao Fashi arrived in Rangoon airport in the morning, met up with the relief team and went to the hard-hit areas to distribute supplies. According to Cai Fungcai, a Burmese-Chinese who assisted in the relief operation, people in their neighbourhood were aware that DDM came to Rangoon to provide aid to the disaster areas, hence every time they saw the supplies coming, they would all turn up voluntarily to help with the assembly and loading of goods.

*Act in accordance with the political situation and keep a low profile - not easy to enter disaster areas
Due to the political situation of a military regime in Burma where all information was closed, the team took extra care in distributing supplies, kept a low profile and tried not to attract the attention of the military by allowing crowds to gather. With the great co-ordination effort of Cai Fungcai and Mao Jilan, the vehicle that transported DDM supplies could now pass through the checkpoints with no problem as long as it carried a DDM logo and the sign of Yongji Company (Mr Cai's company). Although DDM can safely pass the checkpoints and is permitted to distribute supplies, after much hard work and extremely difficult negotiations, it is still not able to obtain a proper document permitting access to provide relief goods.

*Visit to Dedyye - distribute supplies to over 1000 victims
Although the relief operation is not easy, the DDM relief team went to the town Dedyye in Kyunzyanone and distributed rice (50 kg), soy beans, coconut oil, sauce, soaps, tents etc. A monastery was selected as a distribution point with goods distributed to 750 households totalling about 2000 victims. Goods provided include 30 packets of rice, 5 packets of soy beans, 300 bottles of oil, 360 bottles of sauce, 360 soap bars and a box of tents. The monastery was supplied with a bag of rice, 60 bottles of oil, 60 bottles of sauce and 40 soap bars. Shortly after the relief team went to another monastery in the local area, 200 women gathered and were given a bottle of sauce, a bottle of oil and a soap bar each. The victims who came for the supply lined up in an orderly manner. They sat in the square in front of the monastery and listened to Zhudao Fashi explaining the purpose of the relief team and conveyed the concern, care and comfort from Dharma Drum Mountain. The relief team also supplied the Abbot of the monastery with a bag of rice, a bag of soy beans, a box of rain coat and 2 boxes of tents. Finally, as the relief team passed by a refuge area made up of 20 to 30 tents, they gave the victims there mosquito nets and other goods.

(translated and edited by DDM Australia Editing Team )

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