DARKE COUNTY - In early November, Typhoon Haiyan slammed into the Philippine’s eastern seaboard, causing more than 5,000 deaths and becoming one of the most powerful typhoons on record.
Days later hundreds of global volunteers mobilized to lend their aid to the woe-stricken country, and Darke County native Jon Wright counted himself among those ranks.
Wright traveled more than 8,000 miles to help as an International Red Cross specialist in Disaster Services Technology, beginning in early November, 2013 and ending Dec. 12.
It was a big decision to make the trip halfway across the world, but it was one Wright made long before receiving a call.
“When you basically decide you want to be part of an international disaster response, at that point you’re making the commitment long ahead of the disaster,” said Wright.
Wright had previously been involved with around 15 national American Red Cross relief efforts, including his initial efforts assisting with Hurricane Katrina, however this was his first international relief trip. Because of his background in computers, Wright and another volunteer were tasked with providing reliable Internet communications to the Philippines Red Cross headquarters through the ongoing maintenance of a satellite terminal.
The two-person team was one of several Emergency Response Units, however his specialization was designed to provide infrastructure for the many volunteers on-site to better coordinate their efforts.
Initially, Wright was headquartered were centered in Cebu City, located on the eastern shore of Cebu island in the Philippines, and was later part of team that ventured to the city of Tacloban and provided satellite support for an adjacent team.
Even after arriving roughly a week after the landfall took place, Wright was surprised by the regional destruction.
“In the area where the typhoon impacted, it pretty much leveled anything that wasn’t a commercial building or was more than 10 years old,” said Wright. “It was hard to tell what building or infrastructure existed prior to that. Most power and utility poles weren’t standing. It pretty much wiped out everything in its path.”
Many of the native Filipinos who lost their lives over the course of the storm had already been moved, but days later Wright still witnessed a mass grave site where many bodies lay buried because of the sheer scale and lack of time for individual burial.
But despite the damages, Wright noticed the close-knit relationships that many of the local families and neighbors demonstrated during their time of great need. And while they had recently suffered great losses, they maintained an optimistic and hard-nosed perspective of their situation.
“The people that I met were very resilient and were making the best of the situation, and had what I considered to be a positive attitude. They continually were appreciative of the effort that we were doing and thanked us many times,” said Wright of the native Filipinos. “They were very friendly and hard-working people. I’m sure they’ll rebound because of their stamina and culture.”
Wright also said that he was very confident in country’s ability to bounce back from the disaster, as many of the natives he met were extremely resourceful and made the best with what they had.
“Often where a family’s house wasn’t completely destroyed, there would then be four or five families living in the house. They just adjusted to that situation and made the best of it,” he said. “So their resilience came out and their attitude of helping neighbor and family members certainly surfaced from what I was able to observe.”
According to the Red Cross, the flooding impacted 2 million people and the weather became the heaviest rains on record in the Philippines for the past three years.
Wright also noted many instances of local churches, larger buildings and family houses however battered, being converted to shelters .
“Anything that was still standing tended to become a shelter for everyone else,” said Wright.
When asked why he went out of his way to travel thousands of miles and spend a month in service to a country he’d never traveled to, Wright explained that it was all about people.
“It’s a humanitarian motive. You want to help out your fellow human beings. When you happen to be fortunate enough to not be the recipient of the disaster then the very least you can do is provide assistance to those that are,” said Wright. “And if the tables were reversed you’d hope they did the same for you. It’s just a basic humanitarian motivation that’s part of the Red Cross’s principles.”
In response to the typhoon, the Red Cross mobilized more than 300 staff and volunteers and provided 8,000 people with emergency food packages or hot meals almost immediately after the storm. Nearly 242,000 people were reported as finding temporary housing in 614 Red Cross evacuation centers across the country.
According to its website, the American Red Cross annually responds to about 70,000 natural and man-made disasters in the U.S., ranging from fires to hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, hazardous materials spills, transportation accidents and explosions.