From the front lines: Getting ready

2013-11-18 09:56
As the sun sets, it lights the sky over the area devastated by Typhoon Haiyan, in Tacloban, central Philippines. (Aaron Favila, AP)

As the sun sets, it lights the sky over the area devastated by Typhoon Haiyan, in Tacloban, central Philippines. (Aaron Favila, AP)

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Lauren Hess

Manila - My work at News24 doesn't require me to go out of the office much and a lot of the content I deal with in news articles is not something I see first-hand.

I don't often come upon corpses or destroyed places in my line of work so I'm a little anxious about being in the midst of it here in the Philippines.
 
The recent Super Typhoon Haiyan (known locally as Yolanda) wiped out towns and left many unreachable for days. Thousands of people have been killed and thousands more left destitute.
 
The Gift of the Givers team - here to help with relief and recovery efforts, along with a media contingent to report on their efforts - has been warned of the horrific scenes it will likely come across.

The team spent two days travelling from South Africa to the Philippines and two days in the unaffected capital Manila gathering goods and mapping out its action plan. From Monday or Tuesday, the team's efforts will start in earnest.
 
How to deal

I've spent the past four days wondering how I might cope and respond mentally to what we would likely see.

A number of the volunteers, many of whom have done these sorts of missions and didn't want to be the subject of news articles before starting ("bad omen", they say), gave some advice on how they deal with the type of work they do.

One volunteer, a rescue expert, worries that a cut on his foot that turned septic might keep him from doing the work he came here to do. He and all the others are keen to get working.

His advice was simply to "never be alone". He also had some practical advice: always throw bottled water from the truck, don't hand it out. When one hands it to desperate persons in a crowd, those people can easily get violent because they're literally fighting to survive.

Detach yourself

Another, a diver who hasn't been on a disaster mission before, has fears about pulling bodies from the water. He says what he's tried to do is compartmentalise his thoughts and feelings surrounding his task.
One thing is obvious: not just anyone can do this type of work.

As the rescuer expert told me, you must be able to detach yourself from your job while remaining aware of the human emotion and desperation you're surrounded by.

So... let's see how it goes.

- News24's Lauren Hess is in the Philippines with SA aid organisation Gift of the Givers. Follow Lauren on Twitter for the latest updates.

Read more on:    gift of the givers  |  philippines  |  typhoon haiyan  |  natural disasters

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