CHIANG MAI, THAILAND – The earth shook dramatically in Thailand and Burma (officially and controversially renamed Myanmar in 1989 by the country’s government) on March 24 this year. Three successive earthquakes measuring 6.8, 4.8 and 5.4 in magnitude over a two-hour period, according to the United States Geological Survey’s data register, have delivered a devastating impact on the people of that region, people already too familiar with oppression, poverty and personal challenges.
St. George’s own Shaune Vincent, on resident visa in Thailand, gives St. George News her observations and heart for these countries and their people.
As a child, Vincent and her family moved to St. George in 1987; she attended Dixie High School and then Dixie College. She began her nursing career tending the needs of people here in St. George working with St. George Care and Rehab Center, two different home health agencies and later at Dixie Regional Medical Center.
In 2002, Vincent responded to a call on her heart and moved to Thailand, a single mom with a 13-year-old daughter, Shalise, to serve as a missionary sent out from Calvary Chapel St.George.
Except for periodic furloughs, Vincent has remained resident in Thailand continuously ever since; her daughter has returned to Utah as a student pursuing her education at the University of Utah.
Vincent lives in Chiang Mai, Thailand, working with the Christian organization, Partners Relief & Development. She helps with overseeing and coordinating Partners’ medical programs from their Chiang Mai branch office. She is a nurse and Partners’ medical programs reach out to four children homes, which help care for marginalized children of minority ethnic groups living in Thailand.
On the Thai-Burma border in Shan State, which suffered the earthquakes addressed, Vincent said Partners helps with running community health and medic training for the Shan Internally Displaced People (commonly referred to as IDP’s). Partners also coordinates relief and development programs for the Karen ethnic group.
Her personal experience of the recent earthquake as it happened was minimal.
“I was shocked as I didn’t feel anything! I was in a truck driving to my home,” Vincent said.
Her first knowledge of the quakes was ascertained through Facebook posts of her Chiang Mai friends.
“One of my friends posted that she had fallen off of her chair.”
Vincent’s levity in her own distant acquaintance with the quakes in the moments they occurred, quickly sobered as she continued her report on the aftermath.
“Partners happened to have a team in the Mae Sai area doing some community and social work training. Mae Sai is quite close to the epicenter of the earthquakes. They said they were shaken up,” and quickly added “no pun intended.”
“When the shaking continued they (the Partners team) ran outside of the house, they were okay and the house they were in may have suffered a little damage,” Vincent said. “But the earthquakes did a lot of damage in Shan State, Burma. Reports say more than 200 people died. Accurate reports are hard to obtain due to the Burmese Army keeping things quiet – which is to say that they block information from getting out.”
“Because we had our training team in Mae Sai, we were thankful to be able to respond very quickly with some life-saving supplies. We were able to immediately send in food and water. We also delivered tarps which helped especially when the rains came the day after the earthquakes.”
Addressing the actions of the Thai and Burmese governments, Vincent said that both sent out warnings after the quakes that there would be another big earthquake, even listing the exact times the forthcoming earthquakes would happen.
“So people were really afraid, and slept outside on the streets for many days afterward, fearing the next earthquake to come.”
“Burma often quickly responds to crisis by shutting out the international community, or refusing aid from NGOs (non-governmental organization or any non-profit, voluntary citizens’ group) and other organizations that want to help – as they did after cyclone Nargis. The Burmese Army did cut off access to some earthquake areas that were hardest hit.”
Vincent illuminates the general climate, weather wise and personal wise, in her region: “Usually it is very hot and humid, with no rain during March and April. However, the day after the earthquakes, the weather was unusually cold and rainy. The people have a lot of fear – especially after so many disasters recently; the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the earthquakes in Burma and Thailand, and now this past week a second large earthquake in Japan.”
“Some Thai people have even asked if the world is coming to an end. They are increasing their attendance at the Buddhist Temple, hoping to make merit, worried that it might be too late to change.”
“I encourage them that it is never too late to change, that God knows their heart.”
Vincent’s warm heart for The Lord and the people is transparent as she shares how she interacts with these people: “We wonder together if that is one good thing that comes out of these tragedies, we realize very suddenly the things that mean the most to us, and we want to be the kind of people God created us to be – compassionate, helping and loving others in times of need. One of my friends expressed her desire to be a better mother and a better wife.”
And the oppression continues, particularly from within Burma.
“The humanitarian crisis in Burma seems to be never-ending,” she said. “At the same time as the people of Shan State are trying to recover from the earthquake, in a nation that already oppresses them and denies them most of their basic needs, more than 1,000 villagers are starving from food shortage in Karen State, Burma.”
“If nobody helps us, we will die,” she said as she relates one of the village leaders desperately crying out to Partners staff members: ‘“I lie awake at night worrying about what to feed my children the next day,”’ he told her.
“Looking at him, we knew he was telling the truth,” Vincent said.
On the same day that Partners was able to send supplies to the earthquake victims, Partners delivered rice to the 10 villages in need. “It is not enough to sustain them until the next harvest,” acknowledged Vincent, “but it will give them something to eat for the next few weeks.”
Help is needed to meet the immediate needs that Vincent, Partners and other aid organizations are faced with on a daily basis.
“The Burma government does little or nothing to aid victims of natural disaster. And in a lot of cases, the relief needs are a direct result of the ongoing attacks and oppression done by the Burmese Army.”
St. George News readers may help by giving relief to Partners’ relief fund. Vincent said that any gift, large or small, will help Partners save lives. Donations may be made directly online at www.partnersworld.org.
For Vincent, Thailand has become her home.
“I plan to stay here indefinitely, especially as the needs and suffering continue in Burma and people continue to have to flee Burma seeking haven in refugee and IDP camps along the Thai-Burma border.”
Nonetheless, Vincent is one of St. George’s own, and among those who represent our community and, more specifically, she interjects, the community of God’s people serving in the world at large.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2011, all rights reserved.