Aloha mission to aid landslide victims
By Karen Blakeman
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Karen Blakeman
Cash donations of more than $28,000 will send a team of Hawaii-based medical workers to the Philippines Monday to see to the health of thousands of survivors displaced after a village was buried by a mudslide Feb. 17.
The money was donated by various organizations — most in the state's Filipino community and some from other groups — and fundraising continues, said Irene Susan B. Natividad of the Philippine Consulate on Pali Highway.
"I was just at the Hilton Hawaiian Village," she said, "and they've collected more than $850."
The landslide hit the village of Guinsaugon in southern Leyte province, burying more than 280 homes and a school packed with children and staff.
More than 150 people have been declared dead, but only a small portion of those killed have been retrieved from beneath the thick layer of mud. More than 970 people are listed as missing after the disaster.
Other nearby villages have been evacuated because of unstable hillsides, and the Philippine National Red Cross estimates the number of people living in evacuation centers in the region at more than 5,900.
Gifts of cash for the survivors and expressions of sympathy have poured into the Consulate and to Filipino organizations.
Natividad said she was particularly touched by a letter that accompanied a $200 donation by Hawai'i's Vietnamese American community.
"Please accept our small initial donation as a spiritual sharing with the disaster victims in Guinsaugon and as a symbol of our gratitude to the people of the Philippines who extended their humanitarian hands to Vietnamese boat people in the 1980s and 1990s," wrote Tran Duy Chanh.
The medical team will report to a committee of Filipino leaders upon their return on March 22, Natividad said, and the group will decide whether the remainder of the donations should go toward further medical missions or be used for other needs, such as schooling and retraining of displaced farm workers.
Vernon Ansdell, tropical and travel medicine doctor at Kaiser Permanente and team leader of the Aloha Medical Mission departing Monday for Leyte province, said the volunteers are ready and excited about the trip.
At least 10 boxes of medical supplies have been collected, he said, including antibiotics, anti-diarrhea medications and drugs to combat respiratory and skin ailments.
Fourteen volunteers, including a general surgeon, nurses and a social worker, many with extensive experience in disaster response, are among the team members.
"We've got a great team," Ansdell said.
Ansdell said the team will report to St. Bernard, one of the affected municipalities, and spread out as needed through the evacuation centers.
Team members will keep their eyes open for what might be needed for future medical missions, he said.
"One thing beyond the purely medical that we expect to see is the psychological impact," he said. "If we identify that need, we can plan with it in mind."
Teams of psychologists were in Leyte immediately after the disaster, he said, but most have left.
"Now is the critical time," he said. "Three to four weeks out, when it really starts to hit."
Sleeplessness, loss of appetite and nightmares are among the symptoms suffered by disaster victims, he said.
Reach Karen Blakeman at email@example.com.