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By Brian Hews and Tammye McDuff
In a world full of self absorbed millennial’s, sometimes we get lucky and find an honest-to-goodness Hometown Hero. Hews Media Group-Community News was recently contacted by Bram Sada of the Cerritos Tennis Center-a unit of the County of Los Angeles Parks and Recreation Department- because Sada wanted a story written about one of his employees Chris Chutikorn the new Director of Tennis at the Center who recently returned from a trip to Ecuador.
Two months ago, a magnitude 7.8 quake struck the coast of Ecuador. Within 24 hours, rescue crews were searching desperately through the rubble for survivors. The death toll soared to 272, with a shocking 2,527 people injured. CNN World News reported, “The hardest-hit area was the coastal Manabi Province, where about 200 people died. The cities of Manta Portoviejo and Pedernales, a tourist destination, saw the most devastation, but damage was widespread throughout the country.” Very little was reported about the quake, and it almost went unnoticed, except for a tennis coach in Cerritos.
Chutikorn was appalled by the lack of coverage on such a devastating earthquake. He couldn’t understand why very little help was being sent to the affected areas.. Chris kept searching for organizations that were sending food or medical supplies, his search came up almost empty.
“I kept listening to the news for updates. Other countries were sending help, but I didn’t know if the U.S. was. I was really disturbed by the lack of help that I saw,” said Chutikorn.
Ecuador tried to help, deploying 10,000 soldiers and 4,600 police officers to the affected areas, setting up temporary shelters and establishing mobile hospitals in Pedernales and Portoviejo.
In one news report, Chutikorn watched as tears streamed down the faces of mothers and fathers. Children were missing and those that did survive the earthquake were scared and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Those appeals went straight to the heart of Chutikorn. Within five days he was on a plane headed to the ravaged sea port.
“I have always wanted to help others, and this tragedy ripped my heart wide open,” said Chutikorn, “I didn’t know what to do or how to do it, I just knew I had to do something.”
Chris did try reaching out to Walmart and JetBlue to try and get assistance, but the process would have taken too long and Chutikorn did not want to wait.
“I emptied my savings account and maxed out my credit cards, buying anything I thought the children might need.” He purchased small tents, hammocks, tennis balls and racquets, baseballs, gloves, and other necessities like toothpaste and hand sanitizer.
When he finally landed in Ecuador, he called his family letting them know he had landed safely.
“I told my folks I was going to Las Vegas. When they found out where I had actually gone, they were absolutely livid.”
As he stood at the airport, he began to wonder if he had done the right thing. He didn’t speak Spanish, he had a six hour drive in front of him and he was a really long way away from home. With encouragement from his younger brother, Chris took a big breath and proceeded.
It was a treacherous venture to the affected area, the roads to the coast were rough and rugged, the earthquake had ripped up roadways that had been covered by mudslides. Six hours later Chutikorn arrived. As the sun rose over the coast, he could not believe the devastation that had occurred, “It looked like a war zone,” he said, “buildings were completely crumbled and the kids were walking around like zombies.”
“I wasn’t real sure what to do first, so I just started to bounce the tennis ball, a couple of kids showed up and were curious what I was doing. I motioned for them to come over,” said Chutikorn. Within an hour there were twelve kids that had come to see what kind of games were being played and had joined in.
A resident had told a local church about Chris, and he was invited to join them in order to connect with more children, playing games, teaching tennis, and putting smiles back on their faces. By the end of seven days he had reached out to hundreds of children that were longing for a way to cope with the wreckage that once was there fishing village.
The children begged Chutikorn to stay, he promised them that he would come back, and he will be flying back to Ecuador June 7th for a another chance of helping put a smile back on a little face. Chutikorn said that he is going to continue to go back for as long as he can.
Donations are needed. HMG-CN would like to reach out the City of Cerritos, to Supervisor Don Knabe, to Walmart, Dicks Sporting Goods and JetBlue and anyone else who could help this young man in his quest to help others.
Please contact Bram Sada at the Cerritos Tennis Center 562.659.0014 for more information on how you can contribute.
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