Rather than traveling home this holiday season, some of American Red Cross’s disaster specialists trekked to the Philippines—where they are helping people recover from Typhoon Haiyan. Dave Dunn, Stephen Hagerich and Raul Rivera Nuñez are part of a team that identifies people in need and coordinates the distribution of relief supplies, like mosquito nets and hygiene kits. The three men shed a little light on why they’re willing to spend the holiday season halfway around the world.
Q. How do you know you are making a difference in the Philippines?
Dave: I remember one woman coming down the distribution line with her two young children. As we gave her the hygiene kit, the tarp, food and water, the load became almost unwieldy. The children immediately jumped in to help their mom and they all looked at me, smiled together and said, “Salamat” – the Tagalog word for “thank you.” Every day we are helping where the need is greatest.
Stephen: I don’t think I’ve ever worked on an operation where total strangers just walked up to me on the street to say “thank you” like they’ve done here. It’s a very humbling experience. We were interviewed on two radio stations today and one of the announcers thought we’d be going home for the holidays. When we told her we’d be staying here, she said she wanted to cry. I've done lots of interviews over my career and I don't think I've ever seen announcers get emotional like that.
Q. You won’t be spending the holidays with family this year. Do you still feel that deploying to the Philippines was a good decision?
Raul: When I was debating about whether to deploy, I asked my mother for her thoughts. She replied, "I’ve spent the past 28 Christmases with you and I’m sure I’ll spend another 28. Maybe it’s time you go help those in need now.” From then on, I knew that deploying was the right thing to do.
Stephen: For many years, I worked with the Red Cross program that supports military families. I developed an understanding of how our sacrifices mean so much to others. After speaking directly with people in the Philippines and hearing how our work has affected their lives, I know this is where I ought to be for the holidays.
Dave: When I see the destruction here in Tacloban, I know that the time away from family and loved ones is worth it. This is one of the most rewarding Red Cross assignments I’ve worked on.
Q. Will you celebrate the holidays with your team in the Philippines?
Raul: Absolutely!!! Everyone here is very much in the holiday spirit. I’m actually looking forward to it... spending the holidays with folks from other parts of the world!
Stephen: Because most of the Philippine Red Cross staff and volunteers have been working non-stop since the typhoon (even the ones who have lost everything), they will take a few days break to spend it with their families. The Danish Red Cross camp manager where we are living is raising ducks and we’ll all cook a holiday meal together. It should be interesting to see how Red Cross volunteers from around the world who are living in this camp will celebrate. We’ve already got some small decorations up in our work tent.
Q. Is there anything else you’d like to people to know about your work in the Philippines?
Raul: The people affected by Typhoon Haiyan are extraordinary examples of resilience and willpower. Faced with utter devastation and despair, they have managed to hold on to hope, courage, and their kind spirit. Additionally, I would like to thank the American public for giving me the unique opportunity to represent them here in the Philippines. Thank you for trusting me with such an important mission.