by Peter Baines, Founder and Director of International Operations, Hands Across the Water
Boxing Day. The day after. For many it is the day that follows what is a day of overindulgence, a likely ridiculously early start if you have kids in the house under ten and time with family. It is day one of the Melbourne test and good reason for all cricket lovers to find a comfy lounge chair and settle in. As the first session in the cricket ended, what has been identified by scientists as the third biggest earthquake ever recorded struck off the northern tip of Sumatra in Indonesia.
The movement of the tectonic plates triggered a tsunami which would travel across the Andaman Sea at speeds of 800kms before it reached the coastlines of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and other countries. An estimated 250,000 lives would be lost as a direct result.
I had never been to Thailand but as I saw the news break announcing the tsunami and then reporting on the growing death toll, I knew that I wanted to go. The desire to step into a scene of mass death and destruction might not seem a logical one, or desirable by many. But when you have trained for your entire career in this area it is natural, I would think, to want to be part of the solution.
It was and remains a deep honour to be invited to be part of the Australian team that left our shores and traveled to Thailand to assist in the reuniting of families. Of course, it was with profound sadness that those we were reuniting had not survived the tsunami and were deceased.
Across multiple rotations to Thailand, I would form an attachment to the country and people of Thailand, one that at the time I could never have imagined. Starting Hands Across the Water in 2005 to assist a group of children who had lost their families was not well thought out, it was not a planned response and was not as some may think a response to the tragedy I had seen. It was simply what seemed at the time the right thing to do.
At the time of starting Hands my personal life could not have been in a more dire position. I was at the lowest point in my life, but for some reason it seemed the right thing to do in making a commitment to help the kids of Thailand left without parents. The positive effect Hands has had on my life is immeasurable and I will be eternally grateful for the gift it has given me.
I put the success of Hands down to the position we take in trying to create a positive experience for those who are part of the community. Be that the kids in Thailand, our generous donors, or our bike riders.
There are a number of milestones that standout amongst the rest when I think about the success of Hands and what we have been able to do on the back of the support we have received. Building the homes that house the kids was a necessity and I do not see them as monuments to the efforts of our community. I do not see the number of kids who have passed through our homes as a measure of success, that is just a reflection of the need that exists.
I do, however, believe that the impact that Hands had on the children of Baan Home Hug is one of our greatest achievements. Prior to meeting the Director of Baan Home Hug, the children of her home had been dying due to a lack of life saving medicine and this had been occurring for some twenty-four years. When Hands committed to support the home, something remarkable happened, the kids stopped dying.
Equally when the older kids who had been part of our home for many years started graduating from University, I felt confident we were now making a sustainable difference that would allow the children and their children to live a life of choice rather than chance.
There is much to celebrate at Hands. The positive impact we have had on those who ride with us, the transparency and governance that we offer and the strength of the community to ensure we survived the global pandemic.
Eighteen years on from the events of Boxing Day 2004, we look not back at the past, but towards the future as we focus on creating sustainable operations to ensure those who rely on our support can do so long after our individual efforts come to an end.
On this Boxing Day I will do what I have done for the last couple of years. I will enjoy time with family, tune in for the first session of play in the Test match and spend time reflecting on those in Thailand who had the life changed forever some eighteen years prior. I will also reflect with gratitude of those who have been part of the journey of Hands and the difference we have been able to make.