Thai people won’t give up

The situation following the worst flooding that Thailand has experienced in the past fifty years is slowly improving.

Here are some of the latest figures:

  • Of the 10 million people in Bangkok,  million have been affected and 700 died.
  • 80% of the city was flooded. Only 9 of Bangkok’s districts remained dry; the others received 20 to 200 cm of water. 17 provinces were affected.
  • The dollar damage is estimated to be 37 billion.
  • 60 million tons of crop (mainly rice) have been lost.
  • 8 of the largest industrial parks were flooded producing a job loss of approximately
    1,200,000 jobs, with further consequences for Thailand’s industry and that of other countries (Japan has about 40% of its factories in 8 of the flooded parks.)

It all began – Elena and Chun write – in the month of June. The rains were a month late this year, but they made up for lost time by doubling the amount of rain that fell in 2010. In September things looked bad, but in October it became dangerously serious.

Bangkok is called the “Venice of the East” because of its nearly 2000 km of canals, which make it one of the world’s most equipped cities against flood rains, but not of such volume.

Many people fled from Bangkok. It was like watching a film. We decided to stay together with some others, in order to stand by the people who remained behind. Then people began to help each other even those they didn’t know because of their previous indifference. Who was it that saved the country from a disaster of such large proportions? It was the people who loved and went beyond themselves to offer help; the people with houses flooded to the north of the old airport, who sacrificed themselves so that at least some of Bangkok’s other neighborhoods could be salvaged; the people who were able to have a heart for others, and there were many.

Also the wealthy, actors and television journalists went around on boats distributing foodstuffs. Lives in the city were saved by the ordinary people who showed that “together we can do it.” The military also contributed, along with many government workers who worked over 15 hours each day bringing help. Even the elderly were involved cooking in the kitchens at the shelters. Buddhist monks welcomed thousands of elderly, infirm, mothers and children into their monasteries. Priests opened their parish school buildings and went out by boat to bring the people who were left stranded on the rooftops of their homes. This was the real Thailand that teaches to live, rejoice and suffer with those who suffer. It is the miracle of life and of love that overcomes death.

Those of us from the Focolare also did what we could. Many of our families were hit by the flooding, some have had water in their homes for weeks. Some of us went to ask for help at the bus stops, or went to the welcoming centers to offer assistance. We opened our homes to any who were asking for help; telephoned people every day so that they would feel loved, offering encouragement and consolidating the unity among us. In this tragic moment, we witnessed the most beautiful side of the Thai people emerging. It went beyond the political differences that a year ago had divided the country, it prevailed in the form of a great love for neighbor who was suffering.

One CNN reporter described this wave of solidarity that seemed to invest Thai society as “an extraordinary social phenomenon.” We also lived the saying that is going around these days: “Don’t give up”. Love made us all Thai, even if we were born in different parts of the world. No one knows when things will be normal again. But we carry on, overcoming many difficulties.

Elena Oum and Chun Boc Tay

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