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On 26 December 2004, a tsunami hit Indonesia, Thailand, India and Sri Lanka. It left death and destruction on an unprecedented scale, with the death toll estimated at 250,000 people.
On 28 December, police and other forensic specialists from 40 countries travelled to Thailand to help with the international response. Police assisted in identifying the 4606 victims who died in the southern region of Thailand, in what would become the world's largest ever Disaster Victim Identification response.
One of the police officers sent to the area was Sergeant Gill Williams. She has been a police officer with Thames Valley Police since 1980 and has been a sergeant in charge of the Specialist Search and Recovery Team since 1996. Gill is responsible for all hazardous searches including victim recovery. Detective Inspector Peter Baines was also deployed to Thailand. He has been a member of the New South Wales Police since 1986 and worked within the Forensic Services Group since 1990. His role in Thailand was that of the Australian Disaster Victim Identification Commander, with overall responsibility for all Australians deployed overseas.
Sunisa, aged 4 years
During their deployment Gill and Peter became aware of the huge number of Thai children who had become orphaned. Many lost both parents during the disaster and found themselves with nobody to care for them. To add to their suffering, their homes and villages were also destroyed by the tidal wave. Gill was horrified to learn that these orphans would live in large tents until they were 18 years old.
Discussions were held with the Duang Prateep Foundation who provided accommodation for the children and plans were drawn up for a permanaent home to be built. The initial cost for the building was £50,000. To raise money for the building the charity Hands Across the Water was formed. The Thai Treasury then agreed to equal this amount so a much larger building was planned.
Hands Across the Water is a joint project betweeen Gill and Peter who were both touched by the orphaned children in Thailand. The charity represents Gill and Peter's commitment to continue to lend a hand to the people of Thailand.
The orphanage was built because of Gill and Peter's amazing ability to raise funds. To help
The Orphanageraise the £50,000 required for the orphanage, Gill undertook an ultra marathon run along the West Highland Way and then the Great Glen Way in which she ran 95 miles in five days and then a further 75 miles. On the 29 August 2006 the Baan Tharn Nanchai Orphanage was officially opened. It is based in the Taqua Pa region of Thailand, which is located north of Phuket Island. There are 33 children aged 4 to 15 living at the orphanage who lost both of their parents during the Tsunami. Thanks to Hands Across the Water these children now have a comfortable permanent home with dormitories, bathrooms, a music room and a large play area.
An additional 200 children attend the centre during the day. These children have all lost a father, mother or another close relative. The orphanage acts as a safe haven for these vulnerable children. It allows the children to have a temporary residence whilst the remainaing parent or family members go out to work.
The orphanage also offers essential psychological support for the orphans. The children still face enormous emotional problems, connected with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Most are terrified of water and a number of them suffer survival guilt.
One child lost 17 members of her family and another lost 22. All the children are receiving various levels of psychological counselling to help them deal with their problems.
Gill and Peter now want Hands Across the Water to continue to raise funds required for the ongoing improvements at the Orphanage, the acquisition of goods and the provision of essential items for the children such as clothes and medical care.