Late in the afternoon this past Saturday a raging fire engulfed the Klong Toey neighborhood known as Rom Klao. Fire and rescue workers were able to save the community from total destruction, but not before 72 homes were leveled, leaving 428 residents, including 98 children, without shelter. Everything the victims owned was destroyed.
Fortunately, no one was seriously injured.
Our own Rom Klao Mercy Kindergarten still stands, amazingly, less than 20 meters from where the flames turned just before the winds changed and the fire went back on itself.
In helping the Rom Klao community become whole again, we are focusing on what we do best. First, since we have 40 years of experience in rebuilding poor communities after fires (and in doing so have built over 10,000 homes) we are helping the community to organize and fight for its rights and needs. In addition, we are providing the essentials in getting adults back to work, children back to school, and all residents back to the regular affairs of their daily lives.
A few examples:
Our social workers have helped all the homeless residents fill out the government paperwork required for compensation and emergency funds.
Since many Rom Klao residents make a living as food vendors, we are furnishing all the items the cooks need to keep selling their goods and earning a daily income.
We are also providing school supplies, shoes, and uniforms for the children plus clothes for all families, and mosquito nets for the homes still standing.
Finally, we are serving a daily breakfast and dinner for the whole community (300-400 meals twice a day) and making sure all residents, young and old, especially the elderly and disabled, are receiving adequate care.
Our Rom Klao Mercy Kindergarten remains in operation. By day, over 80 young children attend – singing their ABCs and playing with their friends with as much energy and joy as ever. Early in the evening the school becomes a community center where residents meet and discuss progress and plans in rebuilding; and later in the evening, the school remains open for adults and families in need of shelter.
Our neighborhood slums can go for months without a major fire; then two or three occur in quick succession. The causes are usually not conspiratorial. Developers are not trying to burn down our slum communities out of personal gain. In fact the Rom Klao fire started out of a domestic dispute between a husband and wife who rented a wooden house in the community.
This fire follows just six weeks after a neighborhood fire nearly destroyed the nearby Pai Sing To community. We asked for help in rebuilding Pai Sing To, and many friends responded (thank you!!!). Today the community is almost back to where it was before the fire struck.
In the case of the Rom Klao fire, we are already receiving needed funding and are not asking for additional support right now. The Pai Sing To community, more isolated and vulnerable, was in far greater need of our resources. Today, we simply want to share with you that our brothers and sisters in Rom Klao are taking all the necessary steps to rebuild their homes and get their lives back to normal.
Finally, we leave you with some good news: several families have been able to jerry-rig temporary residences on the spot of their old homes and are ready to move back in. Tonight our social workers and I will be presenting the first of many house-warming gifts: sleeping mats, rice, flash lights, pots and pans, plus toys for their children.
Local proverb: To be robbed 10 times is not as bad as being flooded even once, and to be flooded ten times is not as bad as being burned out even once.