PATA Foundation helps Fund Six Tsunami Projects

Travel News Asia 22 June 2005

The PATA Foundation Tsunami Recovery Fund has raised nearly US$250,000 in direct and "in kind" donations. PATA said the funds are being dispersed to help local communities dependent on tourism in the Maldives, Sri Lanka and Thailand rebuild brighter futures following the December 26, 2004 tsunami.

Clearing Debris around Phi Phi

One of the PATA Foundation Tsunami Recovery Fund's early commitments was to Thailand's Phi Phi Tsunami Dive Camp project co-ordinated by long-time Phi Phi Island resident Mr Andrew Hewett. 

Mr Hewett rallied the support of the Phuket Marine Biology Centre to clean-up the reefs in the first phase of the project. So far the project has cleared more than 150 tonnes of debris from the beaches and reef.

Some 70 people assist Phi Phi Tsunami Dive Camp every day, 25 of whom are Thais directly employed by the project. The remainder includes visiting volunteers and foreign residents.

The second phase will include coral restoration and rehabilitation. "Until the beaches, lagoons and reefs are cleaned up, tourists will stay away," said PATA Foundation Board of Trustees Chairman Mr David Paulon. "Without tourists, the island's economy is doomed."

Hundreds of Thais have returned to Phi Phi as part of the rebuilding process. There are hotels and resorts, dive operators, restaurants, tour offices and bars open on the island, including those at the northern end not affected by the tsunami. 

Visitors are also returning to the area. "The majority of people are here volunteering, but there are also many day-trippers coming from Krabi and Phuket," he said.

Mr Hewett added, "Apart from the people we directly employ, many Thai businesses and hundreds of their staff have benefited from the revenue brought to the island by volunteers here specifically to help the project."

A Fix for Similan's Dive Industry

Dive tourism is an important industry for the nine islands that make up the Similan group in the Andaman Sea off Thailand. Surveys undertaken after the tsunami showed that some of the most renowned dive sites were more than 60% damaged. 

The PATA Foundation has pledged support to the For Sea Foundation in its continuing efforts to fix damaged coral and conduct quarterly surveys to monitor the health of the reef. 

Mr David Paulon commented, "Coral takes years to grow, but it only takes a few weeks for an industry to disappear."

Within a month of the tsunami, teams of volunteer divers had righted most of the corals that had fallen over and patched up broken coral with steel and wire.

Constructing Careers in the Maldives

The archipelago of the Maldives is heavily reliant on tourism for its livelihood. At least 21 resorts were forced to close or suspend their operations due to the tsunami, with the damages bill estimated at more than US$100 million.

"We felt the best way we could move forward, was to help more local people be trained for careers in the tourism industry," said Maldives Ministry of Tourism Deputy Director-Co-ordination, Ms Aishath Ali. 

She added, "Tourism is a fast developing industry in the Maldives and we face a constant challenge to sustain sufficient levels of trained workers for hotels, resorts and other companies in the tourism and hospitality industry."

With the help of the PATA Foundation Tsunami Recovery Fund, the Ministry is co-ordinating a project to expand the training facilities at the Maldives College of Higher Education's Faculty of Hospitality and Tourism Studies.

The new facilities will include demonstration hotel bedrooms, reception and restaurant, as well as multi-media teaching aids and equipment.

Guest Houses Bounce Back in Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, foreign resident Mr Geoffrey Dobbs is rallying community support for recovery projects through a charitable operation he founded, called Adopt Sri Lanka.

One of Mr Dobbs' projects, known as the Bounceback Guest House Scheme, is being considered for support from the PATA Foundation.

Under the scheme, owners of up to 40 damaged tourism guesthouses in the areas of Tangalle, Medilla and Unawatuna will receive seed funds to make essential repairs.

"In general, our policy is to give needy guesthouses just enough money to enable them to start a business again," said Mr Dobbs.

A Playschool near Merissa

Money raised by the PATA Foundation and Travel Aid 50, a UK travel industry initiative for tsunami communities, has been earmarked for a new Thal Aramba playschool near Merissa beach on the south coast.

The Thal Aramba playschool, brain-child of Mr Sam Clark and Mr Tom Armstrong of Experience Sri Lanka, will be built from scratch within the grounds of a local monastery. 

The facility will initially accommodate 60 students and will expand to accommodate 130 young learners.

With their children occupied in a new learning environment, it is hoped parents will have more time to reconstruct their homes and villages and rebuild family businesses.

Refurbishing the future of RUK

PATA Foundation and Travel Aid 50 money will also contribute to refurbishing Welipatanwila School near Tangalle, which caters to 450 students.

The overhaul will include the restoration and upgrade of the school's domestic science kitchen, library, science laboratory, toilets, water supply and playing fields as well the creation of a computer room. 

The school is located in the tourism development area of Rakewa, Ussugoda and Kalametiya ("RUK"), however, development work has all but stopped since the tsunami. 

PATA Foundation Board of Trustees Vice Chairman Mr Tim Robinson, who toured the area in late May, said: "The local people see investment in the education of their children as key to the success of their recovery and growth."

Mr Paulon added: "Investing in these Sri Lankan projects means investing in children; future generations for which long-term sustainable recovery is a necessity."

The PATA Foundation Tsunami Recovery Fund has now been closed.

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