Tsunami survivor: 'I feel privileged to be able to provide aid'
Six years ago today, Andy Chaggar was waking up in a Thai hospital,
one of thousands of people whose lives had been devastated by the Asian
He was seriously injured in the tragedy, which claimed the lives of more than 230,000 people in 14 countries.
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The victims included his girlfriend, Nova Mills, who he had been travelling with.
Andy was trapped for hours, not sure whether he would survive long enough to be rescued.
But coming so close to death has spurred him to dedicate his life to helping others.
Now he travels the globe with his own charity, transforming the lives of people affected by natural disasters.
He tells his story to Gemma Peplow...
Christmas Day 2004 is the one I will remember above any other.
The turkey, family squabbles and naff telly might have been missing, but that particular December 25 was spent in paradise surroundings – a sunny beach in Thailand with my girlfriend, Nova Mills, exchanging gifts and then sitting under the stars until the early hours.
Just over a month earlier we had quit our nine-to-fives – I was an electronic engineer and she was a teacher – and set off on the globe-trotting trip we had been planning for years.
It was a chance to see the world before settling down.
But less than 24 hours after our idyllic Christmas Day, an earthquake measuring 9.1 on the Richter scale hit the Indian Ocean – and the resulting tsunami was one of the deadliest natural disasters the world has ever seen.
I found myself in a Thai hospital with serious injuries and Nova was missing.
Although it was six months before her body was found, I knew she hadn't made it quite early on as there was so much evidence of death everywhere.
The disparity between Christmas Day and Boxing Day was just extraordinary. It kind of made the tsunami surreal.
Nova and I had been together five-and-a-half years and this was supposed to be our dream trip before settling down.
Coming to terms with the realisation that that wasn't going to happen any more was extremely difficult.
There was little warning before the Boxing Day tsunami hit Khao Lak, the resort where we were staying.
It sounded almost like a jet engine approaching, but we only had about 10 seconds – enough time to get out of bed – and that's the last thing I remember.
I came round drifting in the water and eventually became trapped next to a pillar in a building site.
It was like soup – there was oil, wood, metal, glass everywhere.
My leg was pinned against the pillar and I think that saved my life because it stopped me being pulled out to sea.
I was there for about four hours before I was rescued and I wasn't sure if I was going to make it.
When the physical pain finally stopped the size of it hit me. I felt a lot of very overwhelming emotions and just confusion.
I spent seven weeks in hospital in total, first in Thailand and then in Leicester Royal Infirmary.
I had suffered a broken collar bone and had to have four operations on my leg.
For the next few months, I stayed with my mum in St Matthew's, determined to recover despite not having the will to get out of bed.
It was pretty difficult, watching the days tick by and thinking "'Now we should be in India, now we should be in Australia".
But I was pretty stubborn with my physio and by April I was walking without crutches and returned to Khao Lak to volunteer.
As soon as I was able, I booked my flight. I got back in August 2005. It was painful and the first night I woke up to a torrent of rain hitting the roof. That was quite scary, that first one, but after that I think because I got very active and started volunteering straight away that kind of took over.
I spent 13 months volunteering in Thailand, helping with everything from construction to counselling. It was an important part of my recovery.
A lot of people I met had lost their home, maybe their entire family, their businesses – pretty much everything.
To see they were able to move on and still laugh was amazing.
I was still obviously very sad about Nova but it made me think if they could do it, I could.
It also made me realise I wanted to make humanitarian work my career.
I applied for a Masters in social development policy and management and spent a year at Swansea University, completing the course in October 2007.
After spending nine more months volunteering, this time in Peru, which had been hit by a 7.9 magnitude earthquake in August that year, I was ready to set up my own aid charity.
I had met my current partner, Emma Taylor, in Peru, and together we founded European Disaster Volunteers (EDV).
It was not easy.
To become a charity, we had to have £5,000. It took just over a year to raise the funds and get registered.
The Haiti earthquake, in January 2010, came just a few months later and EDV was sent out to its first project.
I arrived in the capital, Port au Prince, in June and since then, the team of five staff and eight volunteers have secured safe housing for 47 orphaned children, built a classroom to allow 33 children to attend school and provided educational supplies for more than 700 children.
We have created emergency shelter for 144 families and taught English and computer skills to about 50 survivors.
We have also built a public meeting space, opened the community's first library, funded a football programme and installed drainage systems.
All of the work has been accomplished for less than £8,000.
In August, I was selected from 2,500 applicants to win one of eight places on the Vodafone Foundation's 2010 World of Difference International programme, and received £45,000 to continue EDV's relief work.
I am now set to stay in Haiti for at least another year and I am looking to build the charity in 2011.
I don't have a place in Leicester. My stuff – and there's not much of it – has been in storage. You have to make a lot of sacrifices to do this but I genuinely enjoy the lifestyle.
The work has played a huge part in my recovery, but there's much more to it now.
I feel privileged to be able to do this. If you had asked me six years ago what I would be doing with my life in 2010, at the age of 33, the answer would have been a million miles from where I am today.
What I'm doing now is as far removed as you can get from where I was.
But I can't imagine doing anything else now.
At Christmas, I'm always faced with the inevitable questions about how it makes me feel and if it is a sad time.
I do think about Nova, obviously, but it's just a day, no worse than the day before.
What I'm doing now has helped.
When I was waiting for help, pinned to that pillar, and thinking about what I'd done in my life, at that point I couldn't honestly say I would have been happy if that had been the end.
Now, if something were to happen, I'd take comfort in where the last few years have taken me.
I'd be content.