$1 million donation aids tsunami victims in Thailand

The donation will help the American Refugee Committee provide fishing boats.

Jamie VanGeest

The American Refugee Committee recently received a $1 million grant from the Bush-Clinton Tsunami Relief Fund to support its Thailand Fishing Boat Project.

Former presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton set up the Bush-Clinton Fund to encourage donations to tsunami relief efforts in Southeast Asia.

University alumni are using the grant and private donations to focus on providing fishing boats to people in northern Thailand, said Therese Gales, refugee committee public information and outreach manager.Gary Dahl, a University alumnus and the refugee committee’s Thailand country director, has been working for the organization in Thailand for 17 years.

Dahl delivered medical supplies to different hospitals three days after the tsunami.

At the first hospital he visited, one of the victims he talked to was the head of his village’s fishing association.

The man was wounded, lost his wife and one of his children was in another hospital.

“The one thing that the people kept on mentioning that they needed was fishing boats,” Dahl said.

He realized that many of the organizations were focusing on survivors’ immediate needs, but Dahl and the American Refugee Committee wanted to focus on their livelihood by providing them with fishing boats, Dahl said.

“After someone received a boat, they could start earning a living right away,” said Dahl.

The project has helped 14 different villages in Thailand and plans to donate 700 fishing boats with motors.

More than 300 schools, churches, businesses and civic groups have contributed to the committee so far, and private contributions have totaled $1 million.

“We have had tremendous support from students in particular,” Dahl said.

The refugee committee is a Minnesota-based, nonprofit international humanitarian relief organization that has helped refugees, displaced people and others affected by disaster.

The committee has helped people in Southeast Asia, central Asia, Africa and the Balkans for more than 25 years.