I step around the corner from the hospital and to find the compound buzzing with people. I walk up to the table and state that I am here to volunteer. In a moment I am part of the effort. I am offered a seat and a pen to sign in on the log. They pin a name tag onto my shirt. A long continuous line of people is pressing at the table to sign up. “Is everyone here to volunteer,” I ask. “They are,” the lady replies. I am amazed at the turnout of what must be fifty or sixty people waiting. I am soon to find out what pure manpower can do.
The lady who first welcomed me leads me through the procedure. “You can join this line here. This man will hand you a bag. As you move with the line, a person from each station will put supplies into the bag and they will be loaded onto the truck”. It’s a simple but effective sort of relay. The Red Cross is well organised and they know what they are doing. By the time each person gets to the end of the line, they will be holding a complete relief package that is quickly handed over, tied up, and passed onto the truck. Then it’s time to start over again.
For the course of the afternoon, I’m immersed in the continuous process of stepping from station to station, filling bags, and starting anew. In between I get a chance to chat to some of the people in line around me. As one of only three or four foreigners here, I’m somewhat of a rarity and the Thais in line are curious to chat to me. All sorts of people are here, from gangly teenagers in simple shorts and t-shirts to modestly dressed housewives to the kind of well-dressed women with silk skirts and hand clutches I would pass on the skytrain near a large shopping mall but wouldn’t expect to find here. And a common thread is running through people of the kind I don’t get to see in the city–a greater purpose pulling us together into action. As I pass my friend in the queue Priscilla I smile to her and we exchange a brief word. She’s been here each day and often stays until late in the night. The action of helping simply pulled her in, and her enthusiasm inspired me to come.
The bag is open: in drops a ten-pack of instant noodles, four cans of rice, a tin of vegetables and one of fish, candle wax, mosquito repellent, large plastic bags, a waterproof pouch–everything required for a flood-affected family. As I pass the full bag from my hands, an older man takes it rapidly, passes it to a station of swift-fingered bag-tiers, and it is conveyed through several teenagers onto the truck. Right now, the human chain is moving swiftly and the truck is gradually filling up.
I’m stepping away on sore legs into the sinking sun.
It’s been a full afternoon. We filled three trucks. I’m sitting in Lumpini Park, on the edge of a glimmering, lake, as the sun reddens and sinks behind a a line of Bangkok’s high towers. I’m watching the light’s reflection on the water, knowing that large parts of the city are covered in water much murkier than this. We can’t hold back the inundation, but what we can do is send out supplies.
Here’s an inspiring article that shows how one man’s rescue mission grew into an NGO called Thailand Direct Flood Relief.