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Lopez Island resident sponsoring benefits for Myanmar cyclone victims

June 6, 2008 · Updated 9:34 AM
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Jim Rohrssen with children in the Bagan region of Burma in a happier time. / Contributed photo

Jim Rohrssen, of Lopez Island, returned from a trip to Asia this spring with a new found love of Myanmar (Burma). The people have been living under the control of a military junta for nearly 20 years. “After the cyclone devastated much of the country on May 2-3, I felt compelled to do something,” said Rohrssen. Rohrssen presented a slide show about his recent trip focusing on the social and political conditions in the country on May 25. On June 11, he will sponsor a dinner and benefit auction for the victims of the cyclone at the Galley Restaurant with seatings at 5:30 and 7 p.m. On June 15 he will hold an afternoon potluck and band concert at the Lopez Center. “The awareness of the plight of the people of Burma has come to the attention of the world since the cyclone and it is even more acute since the storm,” said Rohrssen. The cyclone roared onto the low-lying Arrawaddy Peninsula with torrential rainfall and sustained winds of over 135 mph devastating much of the country. Over 78,000 people are confirmed dead and nearly 56,000 people missing. The UN estimates that over 1.5 million people were severely affected by the storm. Myanmar had a military coup on August 8, 1988 (8/8/88, a date seen as auspicious) where noted non-violent political activist Aung San Suu Kyi was jailed under house arrest. In the 1990 general election, Suu Kyi earned the right to be Prime Minister, as leader of the winning National League for Democracy party, but her detention by the military junta has prevented her from assuming that role. She has been offered freedom if she leaves the country, but for over 18 years, she has refused. The political climate has prevented all but a trickle of immediate relief. “Due to the lack of food and fresh water required by hundreds of thousands, the death toll is now rising exponentially,” said Rohrssen. “Suffering of this magnitude demands a global humanitarian relief effort.” Burma’s military junta says “the country is not ready to accept foreign aid workers,” amid mounting criticism and outrage of its response to the devastating cyclone. The World Food Programme says, “it is unprecedented in modern humanitarian relief efforts.” On May 9, the junta officially declared that their acceptance of international aid relief would be limited to food, medicines and other supplies as well as financial aid, but would not allow additional foreign aid workers or military units to operate in the country. The junta it was not willing to welcome anyone at this time. Rohrssen’s aid will be delivered through four different agencies that are having success in the country: Doctors Without Borders, Save the Children Foundation, Oxfam and the Nargis Action Group based in Burma. Rohrssen is in daily contact with the Nargis Group, a grass roots effort based in the countryside. To illustrate the need for even the simplest needs in the country, a press release from the Nargis Action Group (NAG) on May 21 states “The Nargis Action Group (NAG) has ordered 6000 pairs flip-flops. This move has come in response to a widespread plea for further protection against disease. Although NAG has spent aid funds in other areas – on food, medicine and shelter to name a few – no money has thus far been allocated to providing footwear. It is clearly an important issue to resolve, but more funds are needed.” The dinner and auction at the Galley Restaurant on June 11 to benefit the cyclone victims will include Burmese cuisine (a unique meal influenced by the flavors of China, India and Thailand) Burmese music and a silent auction of items from Burma and Thailand. Two seatings are available at 5:30 and 7 p.m. A minimum of a $25 donation is suggested and reservations are being accepted at 468-2713. The community potluck at the Lopez Community Center on Sunday, June 15 will begin at 4 p.m. “It’s Fathers’ Day,” says Rohrssen. “I hope to focus on the dire situation of the thousands of children who are now orphans without fathers or mothers.” Two local bands, Runs Deep and The Fun Band have voluteered to entertain the crowd while baskets are passed for donations.

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