Emotional Roller Coaster
Trip Start Oct 20, 2004
44Trip End Apr 26, 2005
This week has been rather trying. We left Johor Bahru on Monday morning, and took a taxi to a bus to a customs checkpoint (Malaysia), a bus to another customs checkpoint (Singapore), then a bus to a train to the YMCA. We were greeted there by a chaos that would define our week.
In a nutshell, we have been helping the YMCA to prepare daily update reports and liaising between the teams in Sri Lanka and the Singapore Y staff, partners, and volunteers. We've been doing what we can to facilitate communication, and hopefully with time the organizational and bureaucratic issues will be resolved. Andy pointed out that we've each spent more time in board room meetings as backpackers than in our whole lives combined!
We realize that it takes time in the aftermath of such devastation to essentially create a relief organization, and that it doesn't happen overnight. The tsunami disaster was unprecedented, and it's unrealistic to expect a community organization to effectively and single-handedly respond with perfection; there will undoubtedly be issues and the necessity to align priorities. This is not about corporate gain; it is a charity effort, and it has been frustrating to see many of the real priorities clouded by lesser concerns. What this all comes down to is that there are people in need, and the YMCA is in a position to respond. It has a lot of potential as a community organization to lend some long term assistance to the people of Sri Lanka.
Emotional highs have also characterized our week. There was a blurb in the Sunday newspaper about our role with the Y, to which a woman responded with an amazing gesture. This kind woman, a complete stranger, had hand-delivered a gift to us at the YMCA that very afternoon. Part of the gift included a pair of tickets to see the Sting concert Monday night. Imagine our shock when we returned to Singapore Monday morning to find this surprise! The generous gift was certainly incredible, but we were most affected by the fact that a stranger had reached out to us. We were deeply touched. We have since become friends with this mystery woman, a gift unto itself.
Our emotions reached a nadir mid-week, when the first team returned from Sri Lanka with news that further volunteers were not needed. We were incredibly frustrated by the contradictions to the news we had been receiving. It is one thing to prepare physically to go (the anti-malarial and cholera vaccinations, among others, are particularly potent); it's entirely another to prepare mentally. Perhaps the biggest frustration was the fact that we perceived the YMCA's potential success, and saw the lack of organization and communication as an invalid reason to throw in the towel. Having been in contact with other relief workers in Sri Lanka, we had heard that volunteers were needed there; the contradictions were confusing. However, we reminded ourselves that we'd become involved with an organization to be of help, and we didn't want to enter a disaster area if we'd hinder relief operations. Still, our doubts clouded our hopes, and we were bummed to be back at square one. Before making any decisions about what "Plan D" would entail, we had to eat, sleep, and reflect on our situation.
Fate changed our plans yet again. We awoke the next morning to a proposal to help with the Sri Lanka YMCA. Andy and I will leave for Colombo on Monday, January 17th. This emotional ride will doubtless continue, but has been made tolerable by the constant encouragement of our friends, family, and even strangers.