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Rebuilding lives, boat by boat

Rebuilding lives, boat by boat

Going to sea has always involved a certain act of faith. There are no guarantees, and absolute control is an illusion, a false comfort. A priest sprinkles holy water on the fishing fleet, a winter gale sweeps the grounds, and a boat and crew are lost.

“Our Father, who art in heaven …”

In southeast Asia, the same waters that brought so much destruction and misery in the form of the December tsunami also will provide the food and economic stimulus necessary to rebuild devastated communities and broken lives.

Millions of dollars of relief support are flowing into the region through governments, charities and aid organizations. Like so many others, we at Soundings want to do our part to ease the suffering. We want to make a difference, but how and through what group or organization?

We feel fortunate to have found a program started by the non-profit American Refugee Committee International, a 26-year-old non-sectarian international organization with headquarters in Minneapolis. ARC has formed what it calls the Fishing Boat Project, which is raising money to replace thousands of fishing vessels destroyed in Thailand by the tsunami waves.

The idea came from ARC’s relief team leader Gray Dahl, who works in Thailand and recognized early on that building boats would be an effective way to help survivors get on with their lives.

“If you just give them a handout it’s not necessarily going to turn out positive,” says Jon Guy, ARC’s gift officer. “You have to help them get some pride and dignity back. This is a phenomenal program because it’s helping people put their lives back together.”

Soundings feels strongly enough about the project and its goals that we are donating $5,000 earmarked specifically for the boat fund, which should be enough to build as many as 10 small fishing craft. More importantly, we hope it will help rebuild lives.

“Five hundred dollars will get two fishermen back out on the ocean making a living,” says Guy, who reported in mid-January that construction had begun on the first boat. “Every boat makes a huge difference.”

After surveying 13 villages, Dahl estimated that at least 2,000 vessels had been destroyed. “Every time we talk with him, the number goes up,” Guy says. “Very few boats are floating now.”

The ARC Fishing Boat Fund in January had about $500,000 in pledges, and the charity estimates that at least $1 million will be needed. Guy says it probably will take two years before all boats are replaced.

ARC’s tsunami relief efforts got a big boost this winter when the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves basketball team raised about $177,000, with star forward Kevin Garnett alone donating $100,000, half of it for building boats. “Kevin bought 100 boats,” Guy says.

ARC was established in 1979 to assist victims of the Cambodian refugee crisis. The group’s mission is to help refugees, displaced people and others at risk — primarily from war and civil conflicts — get back on their feet. The organization is active in 15 countries stretching from the Balkans to Africa and Asia. For the last three years ARC has been listed as one of Worth magazine’s top 100 charities. Reader’s Digest picked it as one of its top 12 charities in 2003. In December, Money magazine selected ARC as one of the eight best charities at making sure the so-called lion’s share of its donations goes to its programs. (To assess a charity, go to or

For more information on ARC or to contribute online, go to The mailing address is American Refugee Committee, 430 Oak Grove St., Suite 204, Minneapolis, MN 55403. Phone: (612) 872-7060.

The Fishing Boat Project fund is restrictive, which means you can specify that you want your donation used only for building and outfitting boats.

A final thought: We are hardwired as a species to grieve and mourn our crushing losses — and then to go on. It’sreally all we can do. When we are able, we put out a hand to help a stranger. That gives us our humanity. After all, who knows when the tables will turn, and suddenly it could be one of us reaching out for a lifeline.