Ella Gudwin, a national AmeriCares staff member, was one of the first American relief workers allowed into Myanmar after Cyclone Nargis. More than 100,000 people are estimated to be missing or dead, many of whom were washed away by the rushing floodwaters. Here she shares her impressions and observations after two weeks in the field with Sharon Croos of AmeriCares Sri Lanka office.

Ella Voices
Ella Gudwin, bottom right, hands out AmeriCares aid to survivors of Cyclone Nargis during her recent trip to the country.

When we arrived in Yangon our first order of business was getting approval for an airlift of emergency medical supplies. Navigating the extraordinary political and logistical constraints posed the greatest challenge.We did not want to follow in the footsteps of some of the first relief flights, which were turned over to the government or were seized. To secure landing permissions and maintain custody of our cargo, we negotiated with several government ministries. We were successful, and on May 18 an aircraft carrying nearly $1 million worth of medicines and medical supplies arrived. We worked with our partner, the International Organization for Migration, to distribute the contents to people in the hardest-hit areas.Earlier supplies of medicines had reached hospitals, but not the hundreds of thousands of survivors in remote villages in the Irrawaddy Delta region. They needed the assistance of mobile medical teams—Burmese doctors and nurses who travel by boat and four-wheel-drive vehicle in search of survivors. Within 48 hours of AmeriCares airlift’s arrival, our medicines and supplies were in the hands of a dozen of these teams.As the government prohibited foreigners from entering the delta, only nationals could pass the checkpoints in and out of Yangon. Upon their return, they conveyed stories of villagers living with blunt trauma and broken bones for weeks with no medical attention and, in many cases, no food or shelter. Their chests and arms were covered with abrasions from holding onto trees and structures so as not to be swept away by floodwaters. Without medical care their wounds became infected and swollen, requiring oral antibiotics in addition to dressings. Pregnant women hemorrhaged and miscarried. Children were orphaned. Families were devastated by the loss of not one, but many loved ones. A woman cradling a 4-month-old infant could not find her husband or her six other children. Having been confined to Yangon for much of our stay, Sharon and I were granted clearance to pass through government check points south of Yangon to deliver aid in the delta. We made donations of rice and tarpaulins to two monasteries in Kungyangon. One was home to 207 orphans; the other prepared food for sick neighbors. Piles of fresh-cut bamboo lined the road we traveled along. Rebuilding was underway.The Burmese people know the world has been knocking on their door, trying to help them. Everywhere we went survivors said, “Thank you.” 

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