Trusted Leader - September 2008
Tex Med . 2008;104(9):49-51.
By Jessica Langdon, Wichita Falls Times Record News
From his computer in Wichita Falls, Bob Horth found himself gripped by images from the other side of the world that hit about as close to home as you can get.
He couldn't believe what he saw when he looked closely at one photograph showing a snapshot of the aftermath of the cyclone that devastated Myanmar in southeast Asia May 2 and 3.
To him, it looks as if a mother tried to bind her children's hands to her own so that none would be swept away alone and lost when the violent storm struck. Sadly, in the picture, all three appeared to have been swept into the rising waters. They lay dead - side by side, cords still wrapped around their hands, one child's arm across the mother's chest - in the high water, not far from the bodies of others who weren't able to escape the cyclone's wrath.
"They love their kids just as much as we love our kids," said Horth, who is the medical missions director for the Wichita County Medical Alliance. "They feel their death just as much as we do."
Myanmar's government, which has so far resisted most offers of help from the outside world, estimated that at least 134,000 people are dead or missing after the cyclone.
The United Nations pleaded with the junta this week to allow relief efforts in to help as many as 2.5 million people who have been left hungry or homeless.
Another picture Horth found shows children crowded around an unseen provider, hands outstretched, with creases that shouldn't touch faces so young lining their foreheads.
Horth isn't sure exactly what the Wichita County Medical Alliance will decide on to provide much-needed help to the people who have been hit by the disaster, but he knows the group will do something.
As the medical alliance has done in the past - in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina, in India after the tsunami and in Pakistan after a massive earthquake - it will work with a lot of people to make the biggest impact possible. The group will rely on help from local physicians who are from Myanmar and from people inside the nation who can provide insight and assistance to make sure the help gets where it needs to go. The Wichita County Medical Society is also working on the effort.
The work is beyond rewarding for the people involved. When the group raised donations for Pakistan, the assistance, thanks to collaboration with other relief organizations and people inside the country, provided about $80 worth of help for every dollar donated, and the total added up to about $1 million in relief. The group was able to provide containers of medical supplies. And Horth will never forget the trip to India to provide several brand new red, white and blue unsinkable boats bearing the Wichita County Medical Alliance name to a fishing community after the tsunami. The disaster swept away the area's ability to provide for itself, and the boats brought a new way to catch the fish the people needed. It helped make the village a rich one, Horth said.
Every case has its own set of obstacles, and the situation in Myanmar might prove to be one of the most challenging since working with the junta probably won't be a possibility. If supplies are left with the government at the edge of the disaster area, there's no way to really know where the supplies will end up. The group is determined to make sure its help gets into the right hands.
There are people willing to go if that becomes a possibility, but if they can't get to where their help can make an impact, it would be a wasted trip, Horth explained. For now, the mission is to raise funds in North Texas so the group will know the scope of what it will be able to do. Members will then decide on their mission.
"Every single penny that's donated goes to the people who need it," Horth stressed, adding that any travel, transportation and administrative costs come out of the operating budget, not donated funds. The Wichita County Medical Alliance is a nonprofit, nonpolitical and secular group, and works with all faiths and people to reach out to those who desperately need help. It can provide receipts to people who make donations.
The Wichita County Medical Alliance has received several state awards for its missions.
The cyclone hit Myanmar just a few days before a devastating earthquake shuddered through China, and while both areas need a lot of help, China will more easily be able to receive assistance and rely on its own economy to help its people, Horth said. A hand from North Texas will go further in Myanmar.
The cyclone struck Myanmar with such a blow that it will very likely carry a ripple effect through an entire generation as the people rebuild their lives, he said.
While many areas of the world have suffered tragedies on massive scales during the past several years, and the economy in America isn't what anyone would hope for, Horth sees a lot of hope through the hurting.
"We are as a species reacting more quickly to disasters to help others than we have ever done," Horth said. He believes technology, including the Internet, has done a lot to make people aware of what is happening, and he sees a lot of empathy and a strong desire to help.
"It's no longer like it's on the other side of the moon," he said. "We're just becoming more and more cognizant of the fact that we're all interrelated."
How to Help
The Wichita County Medical Alliance welcomes donations to help the people of Myanmar rebuild their lives after a cyclone killed as many as 100,000 people, and left millions without homes or food. The natural disaster left Myanmar's capital city without much of its infrastructure, and devastated the nation's rice farms.
Donations are tax-deductible, and you may make out checks to "WCMA-Burma Relief."
You can send them to:
The Wichita County Medical Alliance
1301 Third St.
Wichita Falls, TX 76301
For more information, call Bob Horth, missions director for the medical alliance, at (940) 642-6465, or the Wichita County Medical Society at (940) 723-7072.
This article originally appeared in the Wichita Falls Times Record News on Sunday, May 25, 2008. It is reprinted here with permission.
Editor's Note: Mr. Horth is married to Wichita Falls obstetrician-gynecologist Flavia Zeri Horth, MD.
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