Local groups plan relief for Burmese

May 10, 2008|By Tanika White and Josh Mitchell | Tanika White and Josh Mitchell,Sun Reporters

As Myanmar's military government has thwarted international efforts to deliver aid to thousands of people affected by last week's cyclone, Baltimore-based organizations are raising money to help victims and waiting to see if partner organizations will be able to gain entry into the devastated country.

The political hindrance "adds a level of frustration" for aid workers, said Paul Rebman, director of disaster response for Baltimore-based World Relief.

The aid group has partnered with five other organizations, two of which already had staff on the ground in Myanmar - a fact that helped to ease their assistance efforts, Rebman said.

"For other organizations, it has been significantly difficult," he said, noting that many organizations still had not been granted permission to land planes in Myanmar, and still others had been allowed to provide goods, but not helping hands.

"More people [on the ground] can speed up the distribution process," he said. "However, our ultimate goal as a nonpartisan NGO is to deliver aid to the people in need. We're not here to make criticisms or judgments on other governments. If their decision is, `Send in goods, but no people,' then we'll follow that ordinance respectfully, so long as we can be assured that the aid is being delivered to the people."

Other local aid workers hope the efforts will soon reach those who need it most - people in Myanmar, formerly Burma.

"What we see on television is just reinforcing our fears that this is truly a disaster of staggering proportions and loss of human life, and we know the international response effort will require generous response," said Caroline Brennan, regional information officer for Catholic Relief Services in Asia.

Catholic Relief Services does not have people on the ground in Myanmar, but a handful of CRS relief workers - including two from Baltimore - have been sent to Bangkok to assist Caritas International, a larger aid group, Brennan said.

Lutheran World Relief, which is also based in Baltimore, has raised $20,000 to assist efforts by partner agencies headed into Myanmar, said spokeswoman Emily Sollie.

tanika.white@baltsun.com josh.mitchell@baltsun.com

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