SPECIAL FOCUS, The Malay Mail,  7 January
by Dennis Chua

Capt. K. Balaksupramaniam doesn’t sleep easy. Images of tsunami victims in Aceh appear in his dreams.

The images also traumatize his colleagues in the Malaysian Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association ( MVFRA)

Balasupramaniam, Lt Anita Lim, Sjn Teresa Lim, Sjn Sharul Ariffin, Corporal Amali Mahat  and Lans-Corporal R. Ramakrishnan served on a week-long relief mission in Aceh.

WARN WELCOME : Wan (right) greets Balasupramaniam at KLIA.

The six volunteers who went to Aceh under Yayasan Salam Malaysia  on Dec 30, returned home yesterday.

They were greeted by MVFRA members and Osh Dynamics Sdn Bhd Managing Director Kapt (B) Wan Hock Leong at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang.

Balasupramaniam, 32, who formed MVFRA 14 years ago, said what he had seen in Aceh was far worse than what he had seen during a mission to assist earthquake victims in Bam, Iran, last year.

“ There were dead bodies every where and many were decomposed,” he said. “ Entire villages were flattened, and people had even gone to live in the hills in makeshift huts. It was like a war zone.”

He said their team made its way from Medan Airport, where  their Malaysian Airlines flight landed, to Banda Aceh in an Indonesian military aircraft.

They worked closely with the Tzu Chi Foundation of Taiwan, which he

SAFE HOME : (From Left) Anita, Sharul, Teresa, Amali, Balasupramaniam and Ramakrishnan

 described as the “ real heroes.”

“They were very helpful. They provided us all the assistance we needed, in terms of guidance, organization and a camp to spend the night, “ he said adding that the MVFRA team occasionally had to sleep in sleeping bags because of lack of space.

“We survived on energy bars. We took 50 to 60 of them with us. “

He said that the MVFRA team went around Ache without military escort and the Acehnese were friendly and  had great respect for the Malaysian volunteers.

“ The transport system had broken down. A lot of relief aid, particularly  food, could not reach the remote village. This is when we had to travel long distance and to make sure it reached them, “ he said.

“Humanitarian aid made up 80 per cent of  our work in Ache. The rest of the time, we spent recovering the dead.

“ We distributed biscuits, noodles, milk, water and medicines. “

He said the volunteers worked for about seven hours a day, and had to travel back and forth between remote villages and their base in Banda Aceh.

“ The road were damaged and many bridges had collapsed. We had to wear safety helmets and masks. The smell was revolting,” he said.  

Sisters Anita, 31, and Teresa, 28, said they kept going by thinking positively and taking “ one day at a time.”

Anita said :” The mission was traumatic. Thoughts of starving and dying people preoccupied me all the time .”

“ But I always told myself, that if we did our best to reach a certain village and give out food aid every day, it was an achievement. “ 

Teresa said: “ We could not have done our job well without the support of the Taiwanese organization and the cooperation of the Indonesian authorities. They made our mission a success.”

Sharul : Sad that he could not help every survivor

Ramakrishnan, 40, who went to Iran with Balasupramaniam, said, “ The scale of human suffering was unimaginable. “ Some people were so serious infected that their limbs were swollen, yet  they did not want to get medical help .” 

Sharul, 31, and Amali, 27, said the human suffering strengthened their resolve to do their utmost to make a difference in the lives of the victims.

 “ We could not help every survivor and many children are still separated from their loved ones, “ Amali said. “ But it was always heartening to see them eating and drinking well at meal times, “ sharul said.

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