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Watching Aid Dollars at Work

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Orange County Red Cross CEO George Chitty saw for himself the horrors that Vietnamese survivors lived through after a typhoon swept the coast last fall, but he also saw the rebuilding that has taken place with the help of international relief efforts.

“People talked to me about the help they got. They know the money that came from Orange County and America and they were thankful for the support people here were sending back,” Chitty said.

He returned over the weekend from a two-week tour of Southeast Asia, visiting typhoon-stricken areas of southern Vietnam and land mine victims in Cambodia.

Chitty was part of a small delegation that went to study the role the American Red Cross plays in international efforts, such as prosthetics manufacturing and rehabilitation for land mine victims and emergency aid for disaster victims.

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His visit is expected to be of particular interest to the county’s Vietnamese American community, which raised $155,000 for the Red Cross earlier this year for victims of the deadliest typhoon to hit Southeast Asia in a century.

For Chitty, it proved an eye-opening and humbling experience that he felt gave him a deeper understanding of the history of the Vietnamese and Cambodian immigrants who have made their home in Orange County.

In Phnom Penh, he toured a Red Cross-run center where land mine victims were being trained to manufacture the prosthetic limbs they use. Chitty also went out to the countryside to visit with others who were being fitted for wheelchairs, which were then assembled there in the fields.

“To be able to go and see the victims who have been afflicted by land mines and lost their eyes or limbs, it’s a very emotional experience. I watched one little boy who couldn’t walk get into a wheelchair and the smile on his face was unbelievable,” he said.

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The issue of land mines has been an international priority for the American Red Cross for several years. The Orange County chapter has done educational presentations for about 500 schoolchildren on the ravaging effect of land mines.

In Vietnam, Chitty made his way to coastal communities such as Soc Trang that were badly battered by the November storm. The typhoon left 3,700 dead and destroyed thousands of homes, schools and towns.

The Red Cross chief was left in no doubt about the deadly effect of the disaster as he listened to the stories of disrupted and destroyed lives.

“One family I met, there were seven kids, and they all lived in a one-room thatched house with a dirt floor. The father had been so distressed and distraught that he could no longer care for his family that he committed suicide. The mother and seven kids were left to survive on their own,” he said.

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Much of the money donated for relief has come from Vietnamese American communities in California, Texas and other states.

Many homes once topped with thatched roofs now boast corrugated aluminum. Relief money has also gone toward food, clothing and medical supplies.

“I was able to see some of the work the money from Orange County and the rest of the U.S. went to,” Chitty said.


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