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Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2005


Charity swim event to aid Thai tsunami orphans

Staff writer

Two foreign athletes who survived the South Asian tsunamis last year will hold a charity swimming event in Thailand on Dec. 24 to raise funds for Thai children who lost parents in the disaster.

The event is being organized by John Devine from Australia and Brent Barnes from the United States, both Tokyo residents for more than 10 years, in cooperation with a Thai foundation helping the orphans.

Devine is a former triathlon champion in Australia and Barnes is the world record-holder for the 50- and 100-meter freestyle swimming events for people aged 45 to 49.

"It happened a year ago and it's very easy for people to forget," Barnes said. "But we were back there this summer. And we went to the foundation and met with some of the orphans. . . . their pain continues."

Barnes, president of a consulting company in Tokyo, and Devine, a sportswear importer, were vacationing together with friends on Phi Phi Island, southern Thailand, on Dec. 26.

Devine and Barnes were swimming in the sea off the resort island in the morning when the tsunamis hit following the magnitude 9.0 earthquake that struck off Indonesia's Sumatra Island.

They narrowly escaped death because they swam fast ahead of the big waves. Devine ran up a two-story building and Barnes went up a hill.

An estimated 700 people on the island, however, didn't make it, according to media reports.

After the tsunamis, Devine and Barnes saw many children looking for their parents who apparently were either killed or missing. This prompted the two to consider ways to help the children, they said.

The pair, who had organized charity swimming events for poor children in Cambodia in 2003 and 2004, decided to raise funds for orphans in southern Thailand this year and donate the money to Duang Prateep Foundation.

The organization, established in 1978 by Sen. Prateep Ungsongtham Hata, who was born in a slum in Bangkok, helps poor people, including slum residents and kids who were orphaned by the disaster.

There are more than 100 orphans on Phi Phi Island alone and 600 more in Khao Lak, an area 100 km north of Phuket Island that was also devastated by the tsunamis, the organizers said.

The two swimmers said it costs $50 to $80 to provide food, clothes and education for an orphan per month, but the organization is lacking funds to support the kids.

They aim to raise $10,000 to $20,000 through the Dec. 24 charity swim. Thai Airways International will support the event by providing free flights for the organizers.

At the event, the two 47-year-olds will swim 16 km from the pier of Phi Phi Island. Participants only have to swim part of the course or can ride on boats accompanying the swimmers, the organizers said.

They are urging participants and those who do no take part in the event but want to support the orphans to donate to the Thai foundation.

To join the event, send e-mail to Devine at jpdjpn@hotmail.com or Barnes at brentbarnes1212@hotmail.com. To make donations to the Thai foundation, send a check made payable to Duang Prateep Foundation, C/O Tsunami Swim Charity, 34 Lock 6, Art Narong Rd. Klong Toey, Bangkok 10110 THAILAND.

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