Spreading Holiday Hope Abroad

Everywhere Kate Conradt goes, she's surrounded.

She has spent the last week in southern Bangladesh with Save the Children, which has been distributing relief supplies across hundreds of southern villages.

She spent her Thanksgiving walking through Patharghata, a small town whose center was left untouched by the storm but whose outskirts were absolutely devastated. In Patharghata there is an area where hundreds of homes have been flattened, leaving only crumpled tin. The lives of the people, never luxurious to begin with, have been reduced to ruin. They have no water, no food and no means to pay for repairs.

Today Save the Children distributed high-energy biscuits and cooking oil in Patharghata. The crowd was orderly and thankful.

"We've reached about 93,000 families as of last night," Conradt said. "We're delivering food, clean water, shelter materials."

Conradt is based out of Washington, D.C, and she's not the only American working here.

Courtney Brown, an affable 30-something who says he has the best job in the world, is an economic assistance and livelihoods adviser for USAID, the United States Agency for International Development. He spent much of the day with the Save the Children staff, including Rod Snider, an emergency response adviser.

"We try to figure out what these people are experiencing on a day-to-day basis," Brown said. "Where they get their water. How much money their food is costing them. Do they have enough money in their pockets to buy their food."

He and Snider spent time in Patharghta's markets, still standing, trying to figure out whether merchants had enough supplies and whether supply costs had increased since the cyclone hit.

The relief workers who respond to emergencies live a somewhat nomadic life, always available to go to far-off countries, often destitute, after a major disaster. Each one always has a bag packed at all times because calls can come in at any moment. Brown says he was given less than one day's notice that he would be spending his favorite holiday in Bangladesh.

But he doesn't mind, and neither do any of the relief workers in Bangladesh right now. They have chosen this life and wouldn't trade it for any desk job in the world.

Snider is unfazed by being away from home this year, though he misses his new wife. He has spent many Thanksgivings abroad.

"I was in Pakistan during the earthquake response. Previous year to that I was in Indonesia for the Aceh response. I've had Thanksgivings in Kenya. I've had Thanksgivings in Serbia," he said.

Today, they held a Thanksgiving dinner in Barisol, Bangladesh, one of the main towns in the southern part of the country and one that was barely affected by the cyclone.

No turkey, though — only mutton and a local fish called Hilsa. Lentil beans replaced stuffing. And Hershey kisses replaced pumpkin pie (or in Brown's case, Pumpkin cheesecake.)

The three were joined by about a dozen Americans, all members of the U.S. military, NGOs or USAID.

"To life, good health and good love," Snider toasted.

They admit that they miss home. Snider was recently married. He also spent eight months away from home after the tsunami, something that doesn't faze him.

And Brown says if he were home, he would be falling asleep on the couch watching the annual Lions-Packers game.

But neither say they would rather be anywhere else.

"I feel like I'm here for a reason," Brown said. "You can be the one light in a dark, dark time for people. I think that's a privilege."

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