In May 2008, a team of Myanmar Red Cross Society volunteers helped save the lives of at least 6,000 people when Cyclone Nargis struck. Even to a stranger, the unmistakable mark of admiration a Red Cross volunteer invokes in the township of Alat Chaung cannot be missed.
Residents of the impoverished settlement, cut off from Yangon by the formidable river that lends its name to the city, have a newfound respect for the volunteers and their bravery.
Many in Alat Chaung confess they did not take the weathermen’s warnings seriously when they were told a ferocious storm was approaching on the night of 2 May. Those who remained in bamboo huts risked their lives as their homes gave way to the sheer force of Cyclone Nargis. Fortunately in Alat Chaung, they all lived to tell the tale, thanks to the Red Cross volunteers.
Hla Myint, one of the volunteers who led the rescue mission that saved thousands, recalled the events of the day. He said: “We could tell the approaching storm was not an ordinary one, so at around 10 pm, the Red Cross volunteers started going around the village from house to house, warning residents to seek strong shelter. We told people that the monastery was a good place to go to, as it’s a more solid structure.
“By midnight, many people had moved to the monastery but Red Cross volunteers remained out in the village rescuing the injured and helping those who had not yet moved to get to the monastery.”
Medals and honour
Hla has volunteered with the Red Cross since 1965. He joined when he was just 11 years old and now leads a team of volunteers in Kyi Myin township, which has a population of 200,000. Hla is a street-side ice-cream vendor, but clearly his passion is service to the Red Cross and he has many medals and honours to show for his long service.
Hla said: “I do this because I think it’s important to be prepared to respond to emergencies, to perform rescues, and to ease pain and suffering at any moment. When we’re not facing a disaster, youths should be helping older people and our first aid programmes give volunteers practical experience.”
More about Cyclone Nargis
Read Red Cross volunteer Chit's story