KUALA LUMPUR: When volunteer Anita Lim Sim Wei left for the earthquake-hit city of Bam in Iran in December, many of her friends thought she was risking her life unnecessarily.
By the time her five-member Malaysian Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association (MVFRA) team took off from here four days after the quake struck on Dec 26, hopes of finding survivors were already remote.
And the dangers of participating in recovery work were enormous.
BEING CAREFUL: Nurfairuniza Zainal Abidin, 13, getting a helping hand from Lim (left) and Kapt Balasupramaniam (right) to put on her helmet before she began the 'Cycle Safely' programme organised by Yayasan Salam Malaysia in Seri Kembangan, Kuala Lumpur.
“Even my team leader told me: ‘You should think twice, as you are putting your life in serious danger',” she recalled.
But Lim, the association’s communications officer, was adamant in offering to help.
“I decided to go as I wanted to lend a hand in such a huge international disaster,” said Lim, who was with the team medic for the 10-day expedition.
Into the third day there and faced with the adverse conditions, Lim started to have second thoughts.
“I couldn’t even bathe, and I was the only girl in the group.
“To top it off, we only ate naan the whole time we were there!” Lim, 30, said yesterday at the launch of the National Volunteer Week 2004 organised by Yayasan Salam Malaysia at Seri Kembangan.
The experience of witnessing first-hand the carnage inflicted by the earthquake and of carrying bodies out of fallen buildings left her shaken.
Some 40,000 people died in the magnitude 6.6 quake listed as among the strongest in recent years.
Lim is grateful, though, at the opportunity to serve in the recovery work.
“It was difficult to see families moan the loss of their relatives or loved ones.
“It made me realise that Malaysians are so privileged, as we have everything we could ever want,” she said.
MVFRA chairman Kapt K. Balasupramaniam, who headed the Bam team, said the volunteers who helped in the recovery work were examples of courage and compassion.
“They were ordinary people who did extraordinary things,” he said of his teammates, who were the first Malaysians to be registered with the United Nations for on-site relief operations.
“We have to preserve the spirit of volunteerism in our country, and I hope more people would volunteer for activities that benefit our society,” he said.
Those interested in participating in the 220-odd activities and projects throughout the week, can visit volunteer.org.my/index.html.