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KBI/Tzu Mission to Afghanistan and Cambodia

July 2nd and 3rd. Knightsbridge International / Tzu Chi Foundation Zamboanga and Basilan Island in Mindanao. Philippines

Although these two days started off with a canceled trip to Basilan due to high seas, they proved more effective and synergistic than we could have hoped for.

In our meeting with the General Wurster - the commander of the Joint US and Philippine forces in Basilan, as well as members of the Humanitarian Assistance and Civil Action groups, we targeted our goal for this leg of our trip to helping become the "bridge" (as in Knightsbridge) between the phase of this conflict that was primarily security oriented, to one that is all humanitarian. We are in that phase shift now.

The joint forces have secured Basilan and have made huge inroads into the major infrastructure work. The Humanitarian Assistance programs they have undertaken have outlined where all the needs are and have prioritized them. They have already instigated contracting services on the need they identified as #1 - drinking water.

We are faced with a time span between when the current training exercise ends, and when some funds are expected to arrive as requested by the humanitarian assistance and civil action teams. The training exercise ends on July 31st. Civil Action groups in the joint forces are ready to conduct their next phase of humanitarian work - the medical outreach programs - right away, but will not have funding in place to perform this work until the end of August probably. The effort to help the people of Basilan needs to be continued without this break. Knightsbridge was invited in as a trusted NGO to be able to work in this environment and recommend approaches and, possibly, provide some of the actual assistance. The Army asked Knightsbridge if we could suggest where to get about $300,000 in medicines that are needed immediately, but cannot be funded yet.

These meetings with the joint forces showed us that our Army now is super concerned about the welfare of the people on the island. They are doing everything they can within their funding limitations to make their recommended improvements happen. This is far different that the image many conjure up when thinking of the Army performing their job in these remote areas. But we have seen it up front and it is for real.

To this end, we were scheduled to tour Basilan Island on July 2nd, yesterday, but due to high seas, all of the boats were grounded going from Zamboanga to Basilan Island.

So, we decided to make the best use of our time on July 2nd in continuing to build relationships with people that could help with this bridge building effort.

Little did we know how important this change in schedule would prove to our efforts here.

July 2nd, 2002:

The wonderful lady handling our logistics here, Joy, noticed our Tzu Chi logos on the pictures we were showing her of the Afghanistan trip. She knew some Tzu Chi volunteers in Zamboanga and proceeded to introduce us to set up a meeting with them.

First though, the base had set up a press conference for Knightsbridge and the local press. We explained in this conference that all NGO's should now be ready and willing to come to this area to help out. Where once they were reluctant because of the threat level, that worry has been eliminated due to the joint US and Philippine Army forces.

After the press conference, we met with Tzu Chi individuals. We were taken to their newly finished offices in Zamboanga. It felt like we were walking back home in their offices in Taiwan. Even the same music was playing. They all recognized us from watching the Tzu Chi Channel and seeing the tapes of the Afghanistan missions.

We took the leaders of the Civilian Action team from the Army with us. Tzu Chi explained to them how they have been deeply involved in helping out all through this crises. They had helped some 12,000 patients in two separate responses organized recently. The Army guys were glad to be introduced to Tzu Chi, and recognized immediately that this joint effort could be what is needed in their plans for an August medical outreach all over the island of Basilan.

Tzu Chi called a spontaneous membership meeting for the same evening, so all of the members could hear representatives of Knightsbridge, US Army, and Philippine Army speak, and explain what is needed and how together, all three groups could be very effective. Most of the membership was able to attend. Tzu Chi pointed out that they have up to 500 doctors that could be available to work in this effort on Basilan. Only about 10%of that are probably needed on this first go around.

Between the two meetings with Tzu Chi, we met with the Mayor of Zamboanga. She turned out to be a Tzu Chi member as well, and she was quite impressed with what we were suggesting and placed the full support of her office behind it. We also explained to her what we were doing for several groups within her town of Zamboanga proper.

With a very unusual gesture, we were all invited to the Mayor's house after the Tzu Chi Meeting to meet with her casually and socially, and have tea and fruit. She reinforced how glad she was to see what we were proposing, and particularly how thankful she was to the US forces for coming in changing the whole outlook of her city, not to mention the island of Basilan.

All in all, July 2nd was an extremely productive and providential day. It is fortunate that our trip was postponed, because now we are schedule to go to Basilan tomorrow with a new member on our team - the Zamboanga leader of the Tzu Chi Organization, Dr. Anton Lim.

July 3rd, 2002:

The weather was clear today, and the boats were running, so we boarded the fast boat to Basilan at 9:00. We had members of Knightsbridge, Tzu Chi, US Army, Philippine Army, and the press in tow. We were on our way to look at two clinics and a high school in the area of Maluso, a couple of hours' drive into the interior of Basilan.

The two clinics we visited were similar, in that they were both fairly small buildings, with essentially no supplies or equipment in them. Ed reviewed the patient load records to determine what illnesses were being treated, and on what frequencies. This will help make our recommendation to the joint forces on what might be done to prepare for the medical outreach program in August. Anton from Tzu Chi was able to see first hand what the needs are in the clinics, and what items are there that can support their work when they come with their doctors.

Basically there are just buildings. There is no medicine, no beds, and no power. There is electrical wiring, but the electricity has been disconnected for some time - probably due to lack of funds to pay the monthly bill. Part of our recommendation will be to get the power turned back on. Other recommendations will include the types of medicines to start putting together.

At the high school, we met with the instructors and some of the office staff and toured the grounds. Their needs consist primarily of desks, books and power. While the school does have electricity into it, it is of a limited capacity. Most of the light fixtures have been removed or vandalized. An organization had recently donated about 8 modern computers to the school, and they were set up in a computer classroom.

But the classroom was locked, and only two of the computers were connected. The municipal power authority had told the school that there was only power enough for two of them. The school appeared to have over 1000 students. Our recommendation will include using the Philippine Army engineers to build or purchase the desks and fix the electrical system so that will power the computers. We will look through our sources for books.

Back to the clinic:

In our visit to the second clinic, one of the midwives called in a woman with a 2 year old baby girl that was in some advanced stages of hydrocephalus. This is water on the brain, which enlarges the head dramatically, and causes other complications related to lack of eating and decreased immunities.

Ed and the doctors from the Army looked at the baby. It seemed apparent that she required immediate attention from professionals that were not available anywhere on the island. Ed (Knightsbridge) and Anton (Tzu Chi) jointly decided that the baby had to be taken to the hospital in Zamboanga TODAY. Within the hour, the mother gathered up some clothes and belongings, made provisions for her other children to stay with friends, and started out on the 2 hour drive to the boat with us, back to Zamboanga. Ed and Anton accompanied the mother and child to two hospitals in Zamboanga. The baby first needed immediate rehydration. Her limbs were like little sticks so inserting an IV took over an hour. Then after chest X-Rays, it was determined that she had a severe case of pneumonia that had to be treated before the operation for the hydrocephalus could be undergone. All of this was arranged this evening, and will be carried out by Anton and Tzu Chi after we leave. Knightsbridge agreed to help with the costs of the care and the operation.

The doctors at the hospital confirmed that the baby would surely have died within 48 hours.

Had we not missed our boat due to bad weather, we would not have found Tzu Chi in Zamboanga, and we would not have been able to put together this joint team of the US Army, the Philippine Armed Forces, Tzu Chi, and Knightsbridge to save this baby's life. This is exactly the type of continuing joint effort that is needed here and now.

It seems that everything happens for a reason. We will continue to build this relationship with NGO's working hand in hand with the joint forces who have worked hard to make this effort a possibility.

When we finally returned this evening, we had some good news from requests we had put out to people from whom we get medicine. It appears as though we will be able to fill the need of the pharmaceuticals here in time for the August medical outreach program being organized by the Joint Forces. We need to define the medicines needed and organize the payment from the various participants, but it appears as though it is going to happen.

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It is great when things come together like they have in the past few days. No one group feels they have to take the credit, and the final product is truly a result of everyone's effort. The only thing we all need to know is that it works and the aid is getting 100% to the people we are here to help.

We only hope it can continue.

Pictures attached with this email include;

July 2:

  • 3488 - Tzu Chi folks in front of picture of Master Cheng Yen
  • 3505 - Group photo of Tzu - Chi membership meeting

July 3:

  • 3539: Ed (Knightsbridge) and Anton (Tzu Chi) reviewing patient logs with midwives in the clinic.
  • 3551: Ed, Walt and midwives along with US and Philippine forces
  • 3552: Photo of the outside yard of the high school
  • 3544: Ed and the Mother and Baby that were evacuated to Zamboanga.

Thanks for all.

Walt Ratterman, with Ed Artis, Adrian Belic, and Michael Mische
Knightsbridge International Basilan Island, Philippines July 3rd, 2002

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