By Flight Lieutenant Bel Scott

A drought-stricken region in Thailand has benefited from a visit by Australian Defence Force (ADF) members deployed on Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2019 (IPE19).

The ADF personnel joined US Marine Corps members and locals for a community assistance activity in Koh Siray, off the south-east coast of Phuket.

“We want to be able to honour our friendship and ties with the Thai people.”

They were greeted by flag-waving community members, about 240 council staff, and smiling and cheering kindergarten children.

Lieutenant Nicola Hribar said it was a privilege to meet the locals and help them restore the island’s beauty through a clean up of a nearby beach.

“Because we are near neighbours, it’s important for us to work together to build friendships and to assist one another in times of rebuilding communities and disaster relief,” Lieutenant Hribar said.

“We want to be able to honour our friendship and ties with the Thai people.”

A local schoolgirl watches on as Australian Army Band member Musician Alex O’Neill plays for the local village residents at Koh Siray. Photo: Leading Seaman Kylie Jagiello

The personnel chatted with locals and enjoyed Thai cuisine while the Australian Army Band entertained a gleeful crowd.

They also showed the children how to plant vegetables in the organic garden as part of an educational program.

“This is the beginning of a long-term plan to improve this area and help the local children grow up in a sanitary and healthy environment."

Koh Siray is a very poor area. It is home to about 10,000 people, including a village of 1000 of the Indigenous Moken people, Myanmar fishing workers and disadvantaged families with poor housing.

The chairman of the Asia Pacific Environmental Network, Dr Peter Harris, said the community event strengthened ties between the two countries.  

“Our aim is to lift the sustainability of this area, improve health through sanitation, water supply and nutrition, clean up the environment and, most importantly, try to start small businesses to give the area a steady income,” Dr Harris said.

“This is the beginning of a long-term plan to improve this area and help the local children grow up in a sanitary and healthy environment.

“We strive to bring fundamental changes to economic and social institutions that will prioritise public good over profits and promote the right of every person to a decent, safe, affordable quality of life.”

“The children are so excited to have visitors from a faraway country, they’ve been preparing for the visit for some time,” volunteer and Rotary International member Thames Kraitat said.

“This event brings us together to help create awareness about living in a clean environment, not only for the world but for their future and their own children.

“Seeing the Australian Defence Force working with our people is like a dream for them and one that will have a positive, lasting impression for some time.”

The IPE19 Joint Task Force visited Thailand as part of the Australian Government’s commitment to deepen relations in the region.