From the front lines

2013-11-16 16:53
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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ManiIa - I haven’t travelled a great deal. I’ve been to a few places around South Africa, done a little bit of road tripping around the Western Cape and I’ve been to Turkey. So I’m not exactly a seasoned traveller.

So when Gift of the Givers called to say they’d like me to tag along and report on their rescue efforts in the Philippines following Super Typhoon Haiyan, I jumped at the opportunity.

Don’t get me wrong, I was under no illusion that this would be a holiday. For one thing, I’m here to report. For another, the team will be going through towns utterly devastated by the typhoon. Some of the towns no one has been to yet so the team has no idea what it will find. 

The organisation’s Imtiaaz Sooliman warned the team in Johannesburg just before departing SA that all should be prepared to set up field hospitals and to help with the recovery of bodies. This is no holiday. 

And yet, they remain an exceptionally positive bunch. From the moment we left the offices in Johannesburg there has been a feeling of camaraderie and even, dare I say it, happiness among this group.

It might be because we have yet to touch down in the affected regions but many of the people on this trip have helped on previous Gift of the Givers missions. They’ve been to Somalia, Haiti, Pakistan, Syria and other stricken countries. So they have an idea of what they’ll face.

I’ve no idea what we’re going to find and I have no idea how I will react emotionally (though I fear it won’t be well) but it’s comforting to know that I’m with a group of people who’ve experienced this. I have a feeling they will provide me with the necessary emotional support when I need it. 

Heck, they’ve already given me literal support in terms of getting my lost bag back. It’s not often one finds an expert physician who’s just spent the last five weeks in Iceland, Ireland, South Africa and the Philippines who’s willing to drive you to the airport which is 1 and a half hours’ drive away at 4 in the morning just to get your bag back. Or the team’s leader Ahmed Bahm who came along for the 4 in the morning trip and then offered spare pants and floral shirts when it looked like I wouldn’t get my bag.

These are amazing people. And I’m now proud to say I know them. 

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:    philippines  |  typhoon haiyan

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