Dispatches from the Philippines: A Clovis teen helps typhoon victims

The Fresno BeeDecember 24, 2013 

Editor's note: Clovis North High School student Sam Safari has traveled to the Philippines to help victims of Typhoon Haiyan with his father, Dr. Michael Lynch. He will send updates to The Bee over the next two weeks describing his trip.

Wednesday, Jan. 1

Today was a final clinic and a special clinic. We traveled up into the hills above Tacloban in a more isolated barangay (community). The area was very lush but there was still an air of anxiety directly related to the disaster. After checking the vital signs of over 170 patients, I saw one of the children drawing a hopscotch boundary on a cement slab. Little did I realize, I was going to thoroughly enjoy the next hours sharing my life with these spirited children 2-8 years of age. Our time was full of laughter, and I felt like the Pied Piper as they followed me around the court and we played various games together.

This is my last night in Tacloban and I have a chance to reminisce over the last 10 days in the Philippines. From this experience, I have a true hope for the Filipino people. This hope has been inspired by directly working with many of the people in the Filipino Red Cross. One of our contacts was Brian, a 26-year-old registered male nurse who works with the Red Cross. He has a countless amount of energy going to meetings and organizing the local missions. He is one of many that I met with high leadership potential. Another ray of hope is the many international organizations assisting the recovery from the disaster. The goal is not only to get Tacloban back on its feet, but to make it bigger and better than it was before.

It was difficult to say goodbye to the nursing staff that supplied the direct care of the patients. Most of them are in their early 20's and had donated their time to aid the cause. The future is going to be determined by the Filipino people. This is a democracy, it is a country that has been occupied by Britain, by the Spaniards, by the Japanese and the United States. In the distant past it was known as the Pearl of the Orient. This is because of its trade with the whole world. They now have the opportunity to put the pieces together and create the Pearl of the Orient once again. I am optimistic based on the potential of the many Filipinos I've met on my mission.

Looking over the last week and a half, the expectations that I had coming have been exceeded. I'm inspired by the cooperativeness, respectfulness and gentleness I see in these humble people. In the midst of the destruction of their homes, their families, their livelihoods, they keep their positive outlook on life. As I come home to the United States and the bounty which we live in, I ask, how can we get back on track? How can we obtain resilience and prioritize what is important? We are here for a reason, when there is need in the world why not participate why not make the world a better place. As poet and philosopher Aubrey Graham once eloquently stated, "you only live once." So let's revive our spirit of hope and achievement, and rise in solidified vision.

We are indebted to Dr. Marlene Coronel for using her contacts with the Philippines Red Cross to make this trip a reality. I would also like to thank my dad who dedicated so much effort and has remained patient and supportive all the way through, I love you and could not have done this without you.

Monday, Dec. 30

Today's medical clinic was done in coordination with one of the Catholic churches in Tacloban. Following Mass patients lined up to be seen for evaluation treatment. The most interesting case was an elderly Filipino man with persistent cough and weight loss. He was immediately given a mask and isolated from the other patients because of the concern for possible tuberculosis. He was transported to the hospital for evaluation and treatment.

90 percent of the Filipino population is Roman Catholic. It is the third largest Catholic nation in the world. The roof of the church was severely damaged and we were told it was completely submerged in ocean water. At Sunday Mass it was absolutely full. People participated actively throughout the sermon and the father led a few prayers for God's help dealing with the devastation.

Their religious faith is most definitely a positive force in their hope for the future.

Saturday, Dec. 28

Life in a international Red Cross camp is a world in its own. The regimentation parallels the order found in a military base. There are three designated eating times: 6:30-7:30, 12:30- 13:00, and 18:30-1930. The Danish cook is obsessive about the food preparation and sanitation. When not deployed by the international Red Cross he works as a private cook. After departing Tacloban he will be starting a new job in Greenland as a head chef.

My tent is one of nine tents located within a larger tent, providing double protection against insects.

After the disaster, much of Tacloban's water supply and infrastructure was compromised. Fresh, clean water in disaster areas is an intricate part of any camp's health standards. The efforts put forth here have enabled each camp member to have quality water at their disposal.

Today at the medical mobile clinic we attended to over 100 patients. Our clinic was set up in an impoverished section of Tacloban. There was a general lack of medical care and the children were frightened by the situation. I made sure to brighten their day as much as possible by giving them personal attention and a piece of candy.

A young boy was bitten by a puppy yesterday and had a fever. We immediately sent to the hospital for cleaning of the wound and for a series of vaccinations to prevent rabies. We made sure we were vaccinated against rabies before we departed Fresno. A few years ago a young boy from Fresno was attending a family wedding in India when he was bitten by a puppy. He ended up dying of rabies after return to the Central Valley because the doctor had told the family not to worry as it was just a puppy, but as it turned out that puppy had rabies!

Friday, Dec. 27

During the last two days, the clouds and the morning mist cleared, resulting in bright sunny skies. Today was our first day to attend the medical mobile clinic sponsored by the Philippine Red Cross. Our entourage included two physicians and six of us that made up the support staff. Most of the medical problems were not critical. Common complaints included respiratory symptoms, headaches, and joint pains. We worked from an established limited list of pharmaceuticals. There were two patients with untreated Parkinson's disease, a 43-year-old woman that had a recent stoke, and another woman with uncontrolled hypertension.

Many of the symptoms can be attributed to the emotional stress associated with the losses they sustained during the typhoon.

My responsibility was to check blood pressures in the adults and temperatures in the children.

Over dinner I had the opportunity to talk to two female members of the Philippine Red Cross. They explained how most of their family members had survived. They went on to explain how shortly after the typhoon cleared that looters and thieves from outside the area were taking advantage of the situation. At that point martial law was declared in Tacloban and enforced by the Filipino military.

Tomorrow our mobile clinic will be moving on to another location in Tacloban.

Wednesday, Dec. 25

The Christmas Eve dinner will inevitably be one of the most unique Christmases I will experience in my life. During this meal we sat down with people from turkey, Maldives, Britain, Canada, Australia, Austria, Denmark, and America. People from all different backgrounds and specialities came together under one mission.

Only a couple of them are medical, some of them were running the camp, some specialized in shelter, some in human services, and some in sanitation. It just went to show what universal dedication such an effort requires.

The U.S. group provided a celebration for the special day with food and cheer, all were invited and many intended. The main attraction was the native Filipino coconut wine, which tasted similar to vinegar.

Today is Christmas and I've never seen such a cheerful people. The Filipino children are singing carols and adults are yelling 'Merry Christmas.' Such a sight provides an absolutely uplifting message. Though there whole community has been destroyed by this disaster, the goodness in their hearts has not. It is something everybody human can learn from. Sometimes life may suck, and then we live. Just as their is always a rainbow after a storm, or a calm after a disaster, their is always beauty which follows tragedy. This typhoon has taken away many things from the Filipino people, but they retain their hope, they retain their joy, and they retain their Christmas spirit.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, Dec. 25

Decimation. This is the first word that came to mind as I flew over and landed in Tacloban. Though there were smiles on the face of the people, they were living in rubble. It's hard to believe that such destruction could just occur in one day, dating to early November. Water is often symbolically related to the cleansing and purity of life. Ironically this same water, in the form of a typhoon, has completely destroyed this Philippine town.

But it was obvious there had been significant human effort to clear roads, get power up and running, and provide basic needs for the people of Philippines.

At this moment I'm sitting inside of a tent at the Danish Red Cross where a cadre of international Red Cross workers and volunteers coexist. This compound was actual built on top of a swamp and as a I sit inside of the tent I can hear the monsoon rains hit intermittently. I have never seen such heavy rains.

Our camp is situated a short walking distance from where General Douglas MacArthur stood while liberating Philippines from the Japanese. I was able to visit the monument that represented MacArthur's return with his men. Yet American assistance to the Philippines has not since been idle. Many American NGOs are present at this relief effort such as UNICEF, USAID, American Red Cross, and somewhere along the lines I too hope to do my share in this effort.

Tuesday, Dec. 24

It's Christmas Eve morning and I'm in the airport in Manila. Several interesting events have brought me to this point. First, through the effort of paramedic Michael Davis, we were able to obtain a much-needed defibrillator donated from American ambulance. In addition, Jace Nelson of Pacific Pulmonary Service worked through the chain of command in his company and he was able to donate two pulse oximeters used for monitoring oxygen saturation. Both of these were requested by Brian, a major coordinator with Red Cross support in Tacloban.

It's taken hundreds of phone calls and emails to coordinate this trip and to be located in an area for optimum utilization.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had preceded our visit to Tacloban, emphasizing the overall need for help and prioritization of short-and-long-term support for recovery.

We met with a volunteer last night who spoke to us regarding the importance of security in times of catastrophic impacts on this community. There have been opportunists and bandits who have diverted some of the resources. The good news is that security has improved and the international response has been strong with supplies and services. In spite of this, there are many decimated communities that still have not been visited for contact or help since Typhoon Haiyan did her damage.

My next entry will be reporting from Tacloban, the epicenter of the disaster.

Saturday, Dec. 21

I'm about to embark on an adventure of a lifetime. As a junior at Clovis North High School, I'm faced with the dilemma of rigorous college prep courses while at the same time trying to develop my own personal identity. But somethings are not written in textbooks. Somethings you have to see, smell, taste, and I have such an opportunity to expand my horizons.

I truly looked around the world to find a place where I could be useful. I thought about Haiti, but the focus there has changed from initial relief to rebuilding infrastructure, and I wanted a circumstance with an immediate need for assistance. I thought about Africa, South America and Mexico. But the freshest and most recent crisis is that of the Philippines, hit by Typhoon Haiyan. This natural disaster has displaced more than 4 million people, led to an estimated 10,000 deaths, and has decimated whole communities.

When I think about my future, I want to have reasonable income for family, but I also want to have a positive impact on the world. I'm looking to find what my niche is as I see people who lack of food or need medical care.

Right now I am at San Francisco airport thinking about what the people of the ground zero disaster of Tacloban will truly be about. I know that the short timeI have to offer can have a major impact on the crisis. But I hope to have at least some positive impact on their lives in the present and possibly in the future.

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