Chulalongkorn University volunteers bring their care and skills to flood-ravaged Ubon Ratchathani

In September 2019, disastrous floods struck several northeastern provinces. Ubon Ratchathani was particularly hard hit. More than 20,000 residents had to be evacuated as homes, farmland, schools, hospitals as well as government buildings were submerged under floodwaters. Even as rescue and relief assistance poured in from across the country, it took weeks before the flooding subsided.

After the water receded, flood victims returned home only to find their properties extensively damaged from the inundation. Their livestock had perished. Public facilities and infrastructure were devastated. What was urgently needed then was a relief and rehabilitation operation to restore living conditions to normal.

In response to the emergency, Chulalongkorn University under the Chula Samakkee program set up a relief team. Under the leadership of Prof Dr Narin Hiransuthikul, the team attracted over a hundred volunteers including lecturers, staff and students. Within days, the volunteers had all geared up for the daunting task ahead of them.

In the early morning of Oct 12, the team boarded a military aircraft for a rough flight to Ubon Ratchathani. After landing, they travelled by military buses to their destination at Warin Chamrap district, one of the worst-hit areas of the province.

The “Friends of Ubon Residents”, as the volunteers came to be known, divided into small units to offer services based on their areas of expertise.

During a briefing for relief teams, Col Anucha Piyasuthi, director of the Sappasithiprasong Camp Hospital, stressed the importance of the mission. The relief and rehabilitation operation after a flood is as crucial as the rescue operation during the inundation, he said.

What the flood victims were asking for was restoration of their properties which were covered with mud, dirt and debris. However, they were also suffering from psychological impacts that needed careful attention and treatment.

In Warin Chamrap, traces of catastrophe were evident everywhere. Beaten signboards and broken poles were scattered in disarray. Smashed tree trunks, rusty nails and mangled corrugated sheets were strewn all over. Rotting carcasses of drowned cattle were spotted here and there.

Coming back home rather left many residents with more of a bitter taste than a sweet one.

The first rallying point for the Chula Samakkee project volunteers was Wat Senawong, which is the center of the community. Joining forces with other relief volunteers from various organizations, the Chula team was all sweat and tears clearing up debris, removing fallen trees, cleaning the temple’s ordination hall, as well as the driveway, parking area and other areas. Some members handed out necessary supplies to needy villagers. Others helped distribute foods from royally sponsored kitchen.

The first day of the mission ended in exhaustion, yet the team members were uplifted by a strong spirit, keeping in mind the words of King Chulalongkorn, the founder of the university: “Unity brings happiness to all”.

The next morning, the team moved to Ban Khusawang School, where some members went to clean up the playground while others repainted damaged buildings. A stage was set up by Chula students for recreational activities for children, their parents and elderly residents in the community. Students encouraged youngsters to sing and dance on the stage.

The audience members, young and old alike, were also encouraged to join in the fun. By doing so, the students helped ease the stress and pain the villagers were feeling from their losses. As food and drinks were shared, laughs and smiles were on everyone’s faces.

In a separate corner, a medical team set up a mobile Chula Health Service Centre, where the sick of all ages lined up for treatment. Volunteers from the Suksala pharmaceutical center at the university also arranged a mobile drugstore, where they dispensed medicines and advice on how to use them.

People experiencing severe suffering from flood trauma were encouraged to pay a visit to the mobile psychological unit from the Faculty of Psychology. The counselling, albeit brief, yielded impressive results. One distressed villager walked out of the unit with her eyes brightening. Another old grandmother smiled and said, “After seeing the doctor, I am much happier now.”

All told, while they faced some obstacles and inconveniences, all members of the Chula team felt their mission to Ubon was rewarding one. The late King’s words still echoed in their memories: “Unity bring happiness to all.”

This article was originally published in CU Around November 2019, Vol.62, Issue 11, Page 4, available at