The following story on a Grace College student appeared in yesterday’s Napa (CA) Valley News:
Napan rolled up his sleeves to rebuild tsunami-battered Thailand
Friday, July 22, 2005
By HEATHER OSBORN
Register Staff Writer
THAILAND — Hundreds of Napa residents joined thousands of people around the world by donating money after the devastating tsunami that hit southeast Asia in December. But Casey Richey went one step further.
The 19-year-old Napan used his personal savings to fund a trip to a small island in southern Thailand, Kura Buri, to help build houses for cashew farmers who had lost almost everything.
“I have always been a selfish person,” Richey said. “But one day it finally hit my heart.”
Richey had to put up $2,000 for food, airfare and accommodations for the trip. He had just finished his first year at Grace College in Indiana, where he is majoring in statistics with the hopes of becoming an actuary someday.
He took off with volunteers from Grace after the school year ended, and spent May 14 to 26 working on the three-mile island, which has no electricity or running water.
Residents climbed up their cashew trees when the tsunami came, and it saved many lives in the small village. But of 60 homes on the island, only one-half of one house survived, Richey said. The death toll was roughly one death per household, totaling about 60 in all, he said.
The group from Grace Brethren, including 15 Grace students and 15 Thai students, built two houses in their short time there. They had to sleep on the more populated island of Phra Thong, staying at a hotel that cost 50 cents a night, and taking an hour-long boat ride to the island each morning.
The trip was arranged through Grace College. The private, Christian college arranges many such outings through Grace Brethren International Missions, an international organization that has been focusing efforts on Thailand in recent months. Richey heard about the opportunity to help with tsunami relief during a presentation at the college. “My heart was broken by it,” Richey said.
The 2004 Napa High School graduate said his friends back in Napa would probably be surprised to learn of his trip to Thailand because he just didn’t seem like the type to take on such a project.
But the experience was well worth it because he learned much from the Thai people, he said.
“The Thai people have tough skin,” he said. “They just jumped back into their lives.”
Richey said he spent so much time with the family they were building one of houses for that he felt closely connected by the time he left. This made him even more upset about the slow pace of tsunami relief. “A lot of people are frustrated. Not a lot of stuff is getting done.”
That’s one reason Richey signed up for the trip — a desire to do hands-on work and help. “They need bodies. They need people to help.” The bureaucracy required to get the work done seems endless, he added. He has since been heartened by the efforts of pop star Ricky Martin for doing wide-spread fund raising for tsunami help.
It was an emotional trip, but it didn’t hit Richey until he returned home. “While you are there, you don’t know how to react. I didn’t cry for them until I got home.”
In Richey’s opinion, if people really want to help, they should consider visiting disaster-stricken places themselves. But if that’s not possible, he advises people to donate to specific charities that they trust.
In Napa, an eight-year-old, Amelia Hardy, asked friends to donate to the tsunami relief instead of giver her birthday presents in February. Students and teachers from Shearer Elementary School, Napa Valley Adult School and Redwood Middle School were among some of the leaders in the cause. Numerous private schools, churches and service organizations kicked in, and tsunami fund-raising efforts continued through the spring.