NARGIS – The disaster

During the early hours of May 3d 2008 Burma suffered a direct hit by Cyclone Nargis. Its trail raged with wind speeds of 125 mph through the Irrawaddy delta and right over Rangoon. The delta grounds, which at high tide sit only half a yard above sea level, were completely flooded by high waves. Entire villages and settlements were washed away. Roughly 60% of all families was hurt by the flood. The deathtoll of 235,000 people makes this the biggest humanitarian disaster since the 1970 flood in Bangaldesh. 2,5 million people were rendered homeless and lost their freshwater reservoirs and rice paddies. Survivors started searching for relatives and friends, for food and water, amidst thousands of floating corpses. International help came much too late, since the Burmese authorities initially did not allow additional foreign aid to enter the country. Because the delta is a vast, isolated area, it was hard to obtain information; most of the delta only can be reached by boat or by foot and it is a no-go zone to foreigners.

Clothing donation

In September 2008, together with Burmese volunteers and the monks of Sitagu, Hilm distributed some 80,000 pieces of clothes in the Irrawady delta. Clothing, donated by Dutch and German department stores, previous business partners of Hilm, such as the Dutch Maxeda group (V&D, M&S Mode, Bijenkorf) en the German Peek & Cloppenburg retail chain. The vast delta, where after many months since the flood disaster, millions of survivors try to rebuild their lives, looked devastating. Still deprived of any aid, the population sought shelter, huddling under blue Tarpaulin sheets. This Tarpaulin Blue dominated the countryside. Hilm visited makeshift classrooms, in tents, in huts and ruined roofless monasteries covered with plastic sheets. It was during this visit, that Hilm decided to organize a more lasting operation. More than 900 schools disappeared in the flood or were destroyed. Thus the goals of the NGO can be realized: to help Burma’s chanceless kids to get the education they’re denied, by rebuilding the infrastructure.