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A True Vested Interest

Jennifer McNutt-Bywater and her husband Brent Bywater have a true Vested Interest in the devastation that has ravaged southern Asia.
Jennifer McNutt-Bywater and her husband Brent Bywater have a true Vested Interest in the devastation that has ravaged southern Asia.

For over the past decade the Bywaters have enjoyed a healthy import business featuring many products from Indonesia and have made the region their home away from home.

And as they prepare to leave for their annual buying trip this coming Saturday they are unsure what to expect when they arrive in Thailand.

“It’s very hard to predict how it is going to affect our business in general. How it affects Brent and I personally is more to heart, because of course we have been traveling to these areas for 4 months (each year) for the past 12 years, so we spend a lot of our lives in these areas and we’ve visited and lived in and traveled to many if not all of the areas that have been devastated,” McNutt-Bywater said.

As the numbers climb for those who did not survive the tsunami, the Bywaters, like anyone else with loved ones and interests in the area, have tried to reach their friends to inquire about their well being.

“We’ve been in contact with people that we know in Bangkok, people that we know in Bali and they were unaffected areas so they’re all fine, but most people have relatives or people that they know in those regions. Or in Bali we have a lot of people from Sumatra who actually work in Bali or in Java so the trickle down effect this really going to affect pretty much every single person in each of these countries because they’re going to have known someone or have been related to someone,” McNutt-Bywater said.

“My parents for instance just returned from living for one year in Sri Lanka and they just just returned and they spent a year in that whole area was completely obliterated. We’ve traveled ourselves around Sumatra and that area that was affected and just to know that it just doesn’t even exist anymore it’s beyond words.”

And although they have lost touch with people in the areas hardest hit, as it has been quite sometime since the Bywaters traveled to the areas, attempting to reach anyone is futile.

“Well contact is not an option because everything has been completely wiped out. Even people in the aid agencies are having difficulty getting into them. You may have seen on some of the news broadcast up in Northern Sumatra the only way to get there is by private aircraft now all roads and any other mode of transportation is not an option so that is just out of the question and some of these places we traveled there 12 years ago so we don’t have the contacts that are as close to us as Bali and Java and some of the other islands are to us in today’s time but some of these places there is really no one left,” said McNutt-Bywater.

The devastation in Indonesia has not deterred the Bywaters from their annual pilgrimage however.

They will be avoiding southern Thailand altogether this year and the situation has prompted them to contact the North Bay Health Unit's Inoculation department to ensure that they are up to date with all of their vaccinations.

“I guess the biggest concern for me really, even though I know how far away we are from the actual disaster, is the spread of disease that sort of is more of a concern to me particularly because we are traveling with Hanna, (daughter) who is only four-and-a-half, to make sure that she is completely covered and that we are not putting ourselves in any type of danger. Most of the diseases that they are worried about concerned about are going to be centralized to that area, but people will be moving out of the area and the spread of disease you know we just don’t know how it happens and where it is going to travel to so that’s probably my biggest concern,” states McNutt-Bywater.

Visibly shaken by the disaster and the plight of the people half a world away McNutt-Bywater says she is pleased with the generosity of everyone.

“I’m very impressed with the outpouring of donations from Canadians inparticular because everybody seems to want to help and even though its over there I think people in this particular disaster have been able to put a face to the disaster and whether it has to do with them focusing a lot on southern Thailand where a lot of foreigners travel to or not I don’t know if that has an affect but when you look at some of these areas in Sri Lanka and parts of India and of course in northern Sumatra and northern Indonesia it’s the local people that have just been completely wiped out and aniolated but they’re going to receive the aid just because of the amount of coverage of course and the outpouring that is happening,” states McNutt-Bywater.

Having said that McNutt-Bywater also encourages people to continue to give through the well-known disaster relief agencies as these are the agencies that are organized to get in and help the Tsunami victims.

“I think that the only true way to be helpful at this point is to give to some of the organizations like the Red Cross, World Vision some of the well noted relief disaster (agencies) because I have had many phone calls from people saying you’re going over can I give you a couple of bags of things to take over and people are meaning well and really wanting to help in some way but I think that the best way to help is to give to these organizations because they’ve got the structure and infrastructure and the organization in order to get to the people what they need at that point in time rather than clogging up the systems and trying to do the right thing but not necessarily doing the right thing for the people at that time.”

The Bywaters will also be raising funds to aid with the disaster relief through their store Vested Interest. McNutt-Bywater is cautious about how the fundraiser is presented as they don’t want anyone to mistake their effort as a personal opportunity.

“That’s the whole idea that people who come in here for the month of January will be donating back to the Indonesian Relief Fund inparticular because Indonesia and Thailand is where we have spent 4 months every year for the past 12 years so the whole region is very close to our hearts. We have to really be cautious about how it is presented so people know that it is genuine expression of help.”

The Bywaters will be updating family, clients and on the situation in Indonesia via email.