By Lillian Suwanrumpha
A day after Yingluck Shinawatra’s administration implemented the Flood-Relief Operation Command at Don Muang Airport in an effort to alleviate Thailand’s worst natural disaster in 50 years, a call to action was sounded through media outlets for volunteers to help sort and pack supplies on the ground floor below the “war room”.
Since then, thousands of schoolkids, university students, local NGO groups, government underlings, army recruits, families and the occasional celebrity or two have crammed into Terminal 3 on a furious mission to prepare water, food, clothing and basic medical supplies for those in need. Free meals, light entertainment and relentless encouragement via megaphone are the order of the day, starting at 9am until around 8pm daily. Donation bags fill up every corner of the Terminal quickly, rendering the packing of vehicles a ceaseless task only interrupted by letting loaded trolleys through to the production line.
Everyone is eager to help. So eager, in fact, that schoolkids push and shove to join in the delivery queue. The sheer numbers on Wednesday made the operation difficult at times. “It’s a bit crazy today, but it is fun,” says Jeam, 19, a volunteer from Ladprao. “We all want to help and at least we are doing something good here.”
National unity in a society that has endured bitter division in recent history may be the single positive aspect to come from this crisis. Here, people from all walks of life are present, young and old.
“Some people here don’t want to work next to someone else just because they wear a Red Shirt,” says San, an office worker who was allowed to take the day off to help. “There is no time for that. We all have to work together if we want to get through this.”
Eight kilometres north of the airport, evacuees from the Ayutthaya provinces are being relocated from Gymnasium 2 to the Convention Centre at Thammasat University Rangsit to provide more space for incoming victims.
Sam, a volunteer majoring in IT at the university, says that they are coping with the 1,500 people at the site on Thursday morning.
“We have space for 3,000 people. I am not sure how many people will arrive after this. I think we are getting enough supplies from everywhere. As long as donations keep coming.”
There are around 300 to 400 volunteers a day, yet only 100 are volunteering for night shift. By evening, there are reportedly 2,285 evacuees. Whether they will be able to endure the next few weeks will be up to those who keep giving.
A young girl folds donated clothing at Don Muang Airport. Dry clothes and shoes are desperately needed in all flooded areas. (Photo by Lillian Suwanrumpha)
Bottled water is stacked outside Terminal 3 at Don Muang Airport. Water is another essential that needs to be distributed efficiently to all areas affected by the flooding. Local distribution companies and retailers have been donating bottles in large quantities. Empty bottles are being made into makeshift lifejackets. (Photo by Lillian Suwanrumpha)
Volunteers unload donation packages. The coordinated effort between Puea Thai and local officials, The Royal Thai Army, NGO groups and civilian volunteers has ensured that the “production line” has been running every day at from 9am since Monday. (Photo by Lillian Suwanrumpha)
Donations are individually sorted first so that all packages have identical quantities of food, toiletries and basic medicines. Supplies of the popular “Mama” instant noodles have been depleted in many Bangkok grocery stores. (Photo by Lillian Suwanrumpha)
Volunteers are served free food and drink in Terminal 3. As hundreds of people cram into the terminal to keep operations going from 9am until around 8.30pm, it is important that they stay energised. (Photo by Lillian Suwanrumpha)
A mother and son join the queue to carry donation packages to the vehicles waiting to distribute to outlying areas. People of all ages and professions have travelled from around the area and inner Bangkok to participate. (Photo by Lillian Suwanrumpha)
Schoolchildren eagerly pass on supplies. Many schools from the inner and outer Bangkok area are on mid-term holiday now and have organised transport to bring their pupils to Don Muang to help. (Photo by Lillian Suwanrumpha)
Motorbike taxi drivers lend a hand as donation packages pile up. The quantity of donations is so vast that for the first two days, donation packages filled areas of the terminal for hours until adequate transport could be brought to send them out. (Photo by Lillian Suwanrumpha)
As designated Army vehicles struggle to distribute supplies quickly enough, public buses, trucks and other modes of transport have been mobilised to keep the operation afloat. Impassable roads leading out of Bangkok, especially in the Ayutthaya and Nakorn Sawan provinces, has increased the need for manpower. (Photo by Lillian Suwanrumpha)
Army vehicles are loaded with donation packages and water. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has ordered the Army to send 10,000 troops to aid relief and rescue efforts and reinforce the barriers at Pathum Thani. (Photo by Lillian Suwanrumpha)
Evacuees at Thammasat University Rangsit Campus have been moved from Gymnasium 2 to the Convention Centre. As of Thursday night, there are approximately 2,285 people from all 16 districts of Ayutthaya province residing at the campus. (Photo by Lillian Suwanrumpha)
A three-year old baby is unhappy. His mother, Sakina, 29 (pictured) says that her house in Bang Pa-in has never endured such extreme flooding. “A lot of press come here to take pictures and make their stories. But I don’t know how much they are helping. Please tell the world what is going on.” (Photo by Lillian Suwanrumpha)
There are currently only two doctors from the University working between 8am until 8pm every day and a handful of nurses on call 24 hours. Saphan, a the supervising nurse, tends to a mother and baby. “There are a lot of sick people. We have to treat about 200 people a day. Each day, about 50 more get sick.” Many evacuees suffer from diabetes and chronic diseases, whilst newer patients fall ill with fever, hypertension and diarhorrea. (Photo by Lillian Suwanrumpha)
A Buddhist monk tours the site every few hours to reassure evacuees and keep spirits high. Despite the heartbreak of abandoning their homes, many of the evacuees are here with friends and neighbours; strong community ties are crucial in helping victims cope. (Photo by Lillian Suwanrumpha)
The crisis doesn’t stop children from playing with each other and keeping themselves occupied. (Photo by Lillian Suwanrumpha)
Nakon and Army, his three year old son, arrived at Thammasat University two days ago. “There was no flooding at my house last year. Only a little bit. But this year was too much.” The people of Ayutthaya endured flooding for around 3 months last year and this time, water levels are not expected to decrease significantly until November. (Photo by Lillian Suwanrumpha)
One of the free healthcare services on site is traditional Chinese acupuncture, being used to treat headaches and general muscle aches. Massages are also available for evacuees. (Photo by Lillian Suwanrumpha)
Volunteers supervise children with colouring books, pencils and toys to keep them stimulated. There are about 300 people volunteering every day; around eighty percent of them are Thammasat University students. Both Rangsit and Tha Prachan campuses belonging to the university are closed due to the flooding. More night shift volunteers, doctors and nurses are desperately needed. (Photo by Lillian Suwanrumpha)
Lillian Suwanrumpha is a freelance videographer and photographer based in Bangkok, Thailand. She can be followed on Twitter @TheLilyFish.