Truckee woman has personal connection to disaster |

Truckee woman has personal connection to disaster

Courtesy photo Caroline Ford and her son, Kyle Zell, pause while sorting clothing at a Thai Red Cross disaster relief center in Bangkok, Thailand, after the Dec. 26, 2004 tsunami.

When Truckee resident Caroline Ford awoke to the tremors of the Dec. 26 earthquake that shook South Asia last year, she had no idea how drastically the focus of her time in Thailand would change.Then, the tsunami hit.”When I was leaving [the country], it was as if the previous six months almost disappeared or took a back seat,” she said of her time in the country. “What was in my heart was how tragic this was and how could I help?”On sabbatical from her post as Director of the University of Nevada, Reno Medical School’s Center for Education and Health Services Outreach, Ford and her son, Kyle Zell, 10, were living in Bangkok, Thailand, when the tsunami struck. She was working on a project to address village health workers and how to train volunteers for the health work force in rural communities as well as teaching at Chulalongkorn University while Zell was attending an international school.As a specialist in rural health issues, Ford felt a special connection to those coordinating the relief and recovery efforts after the tsunami, but it was a fortuitous decision that underscored the gravity of the disaster to her.

“We actually were due to be on one of the islands that got hit by the tsunami, so I am running on borrowed time,” she said. “In retrospect, when I heard so many personal stories about the women who had to let their children go because they couldn’t hang on to a tree and hang on to their child, that struck me as something that could have happened to me.”Instead, Ford and her son did what they could initially for the relief effort – donating money for coffins, donating blood and helping the Thai Red Cross sort food, clothing and other supplies that was going out to tsunami victims. Ford also contacted her colleague at Chulalongkorn University’s College of Public Health, Dr. Valaikanya Plasai, and together they began the process of setting up the Thailand/United States Reconstruction Project on Koh Libong – an island in the Trang province in southern Thailand that suffered significant damage during the tsunami.The projectUnofficially called the Koh Libong Project, Ford’s effort seeks to raise money to repair villagers’ huts and fishing vessels on Koh Libong, as well as rebuild fish-rearing facilities, provide occupational training and child support for affected families and construct a triage center for Kantang Hospital in Trang Province.

In total, Ford and others in Malaysia, Australia and Great Britain are hoping to raise more than $89,000 for these projects.”We’re hoping that in a step-wise approach we can do the fund-raising,” Ford said. “The problem that I have run into is that many people have already given, and in all fairness, it’s awkward to ask someone who has already given generously … So I’m in a funny situation with the fund-raising. But I’m optimistic that we’ve already raised enough to rebuild at least eight homes … So I know that we’ve met some of the fund-raising needs. But there are still many others.”Ford stressed that money raised for the Koh Libong project would only go toward projects that will directly affect the lives of tsunami survivors, and she plans to return to Thailand to personally help with the rebuilding on Koh Libong.”The islanders themselves have put a priority on what kinds of things need to be done and where they need help,” she said. “We don’t think up what we should do. It’s actually the islanders themselves saying to us ‘This is what would help …’ That is how we’ve designed the project.”Ford and her son are scheduled to return to Thailand in late July to begin three weeks of rebuilding on Koh Libong, and she hopes that her personal connection to the project will help reassure donors that their money is being spent wisely.

“What I want to communicate is how personal the project is. By giving to this project you’ll actually be able to see what re-building is occurring,” she said. “We’re going to post progress of the rebuilding on the Web site and I’d be available to talk with people and show them pictures … Give them a sense of where their money actually goes.”For more information on the tsunami disaster relief effort and this project, visit or contact Caroline Ford at or 587-5349Sidebar: Dog wash for Koh LibongPotential donors in the Truckee-Tahoe area will have a convenient and fun way to donate to the Thailand/United States Reconstruction Project this Saturday, June 2, as Ford will be sponsoring a Truckee Dog Wash Day of Summer fund-raiser at Mickey’s Launder-Mutt in the Westgate (i.e. Wild Cherries) Shopping Center in Truckee. From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. people can bring their dogs by for a wash and speak to Ford about the project and her experiences. All proceeds from the dog wash and the sale of tsunami relief bracelets will go to benefit the villagers of Koh Libong.

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