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Local woman aiding tsunami relief

Alex Miller

EDWARDS ” Sandy Shoultz has been sewing baby blankets at her home in Miller Ranch. So far, she’s got about 25 of them and plans to keep sewing until she leaves for Phuket, Thailand, on Friday.

“It’s hot there, but babies still need blankets,” Shoultz said. “It’s a comfort thing, a good thing to give to mothers for their babies.”

It’s been about three months since the massive earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean killed upwards of 200,000 people.

While money, supplies, food and aid workers swarmed into the area immediately following the disaster, Shoultz, 58, said it’s important to recognize that there are still years of work ahead. That’s why she signed up to help through an organization called the Phuket Project.

Phuket ” pronounced “poo-ket” ” is an island off the coast of Thailand.

“It’s really hard to volunteer through the bigger organizations like Red Cross or UNICEF,” Shoultz said. “You have to have a couple of years of training, at least.”

She read about the Phuket Project in National Geographic Explorer magazine, and learned it was more open to people without specific experience but who simply wanted to help. Shoultz said she’s not entirely sure what her experience will be like, but understands she’ll be there for at least two weeks, helping to build a house.

But one need not go all the way to Thailand to help, she said.

“Even a small gesture, whatever anyone can do is good,” she said. “People want to help and think they can’t go to Thailand. But a little bit of what we have goes a long way in the Third World.”

The Phuket Project

An international volunteer organization based out of New York and Bangkok, the Phuket Project’s stated aims are to help with smaller projects in communities that may not be as “high profile” in the media as some others. The project also focuses on helping children by rebuilding homes and schools.

While the island of Phuket is the primary focus of the organization’s efforts, other provinces in southern Thailand will also benefit.

Traveling to the stricken areas is only one way to contribute to relief efforts. Financial contributions and corporate sponsorships are also welcome. Shoultz said the project can also use help simply finding things, such as donated hotel rooms or airfare for volunteers. She has no doubt those who contribute will be touched by the effort, she said.

Volunteers pay their airfare as far as Bangkok (Shoultz said it was $850 round-trip out of Denver). Thai Air donated the flight the rest of the way. Accommodations are provided one way or another once volunteers arrive.

“I love to go to these countries because it can be such an amazing experience,” she said, noting that she’s traveled previously in China and South America. “Poor people in these places don’t get gifts, and it’s amazing how big a deal it can be to them.”

In the case of Thailand and the other countries hit by the tsunami, the stakes are higher. Previous Phuket Project volunteers, Shoultz said, have been greeted with great enthusiasm by the local people. To her, that kind of experience far outweighs anything she could get lying on a beach somewhere.

“I have no desire to do that kind of thing,” she said. “Helping in this way, it changes your life.”

Alex Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 615, or amiller@vaildaily.com.

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