At the air base in Utapao, Thailand, yesterday, Kathy Headlee of Mothers Without Borders showed some of the items the volunteers were bringing for needy children.

Mothers take relief
into own hands

UTAPAO, Thailand >> They boarded the U.S. Air Force C-130 to Banda Aceh, Indonesia, carrying diapers, digital cameras and a do-good attitude.

Volunteers like Vicki Nielson, founder of Mothers Without Borders, a Utah-based nonreligious group that helps orphans and vulnerable children in Zambia, northern Uganda, Ethiopia and other countries. There are hundreds of Mothers Without Borders volunteers who contribute money and sign up for trips to work in orphanages in other countries.

On assignment

Star-Bulletin reporter Craig Gima is traveling through Southeast Asia to report on relief efforts for people across 11 countries devastated by the Dec. 26 quake and tsunamis.

"We'd love to set up a chapter in Hawaii," Nielson said yesterday.

Nielson said she and the volunteers in her network were touched by the tsunami and earthquake disaster and wanted to see if there was a way they could help. "It appeared to us there was a need," she said.

Mothers Without Borders is among the many nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs, that have sent representatives to southern Asia in the aftermath of the Dec. 26 catastrophe.

To turn good intentions into real aid, relief organizers hold daily morning briefings. At 8:30 a.m. the Civil, Military, and Aid Cooperation meeting begins in Medan, Indonesia. More than 100 relief groups at the Hotel Sofitel are told what supplies are needed and how to get them there, said Paul Johnson, who is working on security for the International Organization for Migration, a United Nations-affiliated group coordinating aid shipments for the Indonesian government.

The relief workers then break into smaller groups and get advice on what to do to get supplies to the affected areas.

At the flight line, passengers tired after only a few hours' sleep on the floor of a Thai military base's leisure room wait for word on the next flight to Banda Aceh.

Nielson and four other volunteers paid their own way to Medan, the capital of Sumatra, and were able to get on a C-130 Sunday night headed for Banda Aceh, one of the areas hardest hit by the disaster.

As the plane took off, they snapped pictures of each other strapped into red cargo net seats.

"This is our first foray into disaster-type situations," Nielson said early yesterday on the tarmac of the Utapao air base after the plane was forced to fly to Thailand when bad weather closed Banda Aceh Airport and left the tent city around the airport a muddy mess.

Nielson said she has five children back home, ages 15 to 32, the youngest a Romanian orphan whom she adopted.

"We're really here to determine what the need is for nontechnical volunteers in a disaster," Nielson said.

If there is a need for her Mothers Without Borders volunteers to take care of children in refugee camps, she arranges trips for them.

Using some of her contacts, Nielson arranged for bed space with Project Concern, which has some living quarters set up near the airport. They plan to stay in Banda Aceh through Sunday.

Natasha Barrymore and Staveos Hiliopoulos, with a Greek nongovernmental organization, World Pharmacists, brought a half-ton of medicines, antibiotics, bandages and antiseptics worth about $50,000 to distribute in Sumatra.

They also plan to stay a week, but did not have any contacts to distribute the drugs or a confirmed place to sleep in Banda Aceh.

"God bless them, they (the nongovernmental organization) have the right attitude," said Johnson. "This is the worthy cause of the day," he said.

Still, he added, "not to rain on anybody's parade, but people need to be careful in that environment."

Johnson noted that faith-based NGOs need to be especially careful about letting religion interfere with relief. "There is a potential for seeing us as Western Christians here to threaten their religion."

East-West Center Tsunami Relief page
American Red Cross Hawaii
Red Cross survivor locator
Pacific Tsunami Warning Center

U.S. Pacific Command

E-mail to City Desk


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