American aid groups look back at Yolanda

LOS ANGELES – One year ago, while the world looked on with concern as Super Typhoon Yolanda ravaged Central Philippines, international humanitarian aid groups were rushing in to help Filipino victims.

“When we hit Tacloban, I was just blown away by how far the disaster stretched – it was mind blowing,” recalled Jason Ferguson, a training and exercise associate with Team Rubicon.

“It was amazing to see the support from the people in Manila,” said Amanda Burke, of Team Rubicon, “and how resilient they were in trying to get help down there to their family members. Even with us, they were more supportive of us because we were trying to get help down to Leyte province.”

Vince Moffitt is part of Team Rubicon, a group of active and retired service men and women as well as civilians that aid international disasters.

The former fire chief was the field director during the super typhoon. Eighty-six members of the team stayed in the Philippines for about four weeks.

“It was definitely humbling for us to go over there and help those people. We were able to do medical work, rebuilding, we were able to connect with the people, so there was a lot of different aspects of what were good at,” he recalled.

Jose Cuisia Jr, the Philippine Ambassador to the US spent the first anniversary of Typhoon Yolanda in Los Angeles, honoring the members of the group Mammoth Medical Missions who came to the Philippines’ aid at the consulate and also Team Rubicon Salute to Service Awards.

“These two teams really contributed so much in saving so many lives in the Central Philippines,” the envoy said during his presentation.

Cuisia had admitted that he had to make tough choices in securing expedited access for the American aid workers, but his decisions paid off and even received credit from retired US Army General David Petraeus.

“The ambassador was an integral part for letting the entire humanitarian operations, at least the US support, possible and he should absolutely be proud of his efforts to help his country in time of dire need,” Petraeus said.

For aid workers, the conditions during Typhoon Yolanda was not just a chance to help, but also an educational experience learning about a foreign culture through real life disaster relief scenarios, and in the worst of times these volunteers have forged a lifelong connection with the Filipinos they helped.

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