Israeli medics and relief volunteers are providing vital humanitarian aid to the Philippines, helping hundreds of people injured and left without shelter in the aftermath of the destructive Typhoon Parma.
Tens of thousands of people in the Philippines have been evacuated to prevent more tragedies from the after-effects of Typhoon Parma. Coupled with the earlier tropical storm Ketsana, an estimated 300 people have been killed in the Philippines recently due to the worst weather the country has seen in 40 years.
With an antenna tuned to natural disasters and distress, Shachar Zahavi from IsraAID – the Israel Forum for International Humanitarian Aid – started organizing his relief troops as soon as he heard the news. Following a call for help from the Filipino government, for the first time Israel will be sending aid to the Philippines, Zahavi tells ISRAEL21c.
Over the last few days, Zahavi has been deciding which of the Israeli non-profit organizations under the IsraAID umbrella would be joining the delegation, the core of which is a team of five or six medical specialists who are expected to head to Manila in the coming days to help in staffing medical clinics.
Zahavi says that Israel’s ambassador to the Philippines was already buying and distributing tangible supplies at his own initiative, but Israel is planning on sending more supplies, such as medical supplies, tents and other equipment, based on need.
Long-term aid in mind
“We will send our relief team at the end of the week,” Zahavi tells ISRAEL21c. “It will be a medical-relief mission. IsraAID established partnerships with the United Nations to provide assistance. We will try to be some sort of medical supplement.
“What we want to do is to provide medical assistance where the infrastructure was damaged, to help supplement health facilities. And we want to send relief items too,” he says. While the message so far is an urgent call for tents, blankets and hygiene kits, “That might change when we land,” says Zahavi.
The first mission will be in the region for a few weeks, and in addition to supplying medical help the team will survey the situation on the ground to assess the types of longer-term projects that may be needed.
Although Israel rushed to the aid of Southeast Asia after the tsunami of 2004, this is the first time Israel has sent aid to the Philippines. “We saw what happened on the news and that the Philippines asked for international assistance, and we decided we want to offer. We think it is appropriate that Israelis and the Jewish communities should be involved in helping this community,” says Zahavi.
Partners in sending aid to the Philippines on behalf of Israel include the Toronto Jewish Federation and the American Jewish Committee. Rabbi Edward Rettig, acting director of the Israel office of the American Jewish Committee tells ISRAEL21c: “We are very gratified that we can be of help and this is in line with our understanding of the connection between American Jewry, Israel and the world at large.”
A cyclone-proof school
Last year, in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar (Burma), IsraAID volunteers sent relief and the Israeli team is still working there now, Zahavi recounts. Apart from short-term medical relief, the Israeli mission provided the Burmese with various rehabilitation programs. “We just finished the school that we built. And we are going into hygiene and health education.”
The cyclone-proof school is in the village of Tar Tite and was built in partnership with local leaders and communities in the villages surrounding the school. The Burmese aid includes some 17 member organizations from IsraAID, which is piecing together its relief strategy like a puzzle, says Zahavi.
Also on the IsraAID list are relief delegations to Samoa and Indonesia, which recently suffered from devastating earthquakes, and in Samoa a tsunami, but that depends on funding, admits Zahavi who relies on donations from outside Israel to help buy supplies and plane tickets.
The idea of Israel helping the world is a no-brainer, he says: “The importance is not only for the Philippines, but whenever there is a disaster, crime or request for assistance. Especially given everything that Israel and the Jewish people have gone through – we should be the first to respond and reach out our hand in assistance.
“We have the skills and knowledge to help others. It’s good for us, good for them, and very valuable and appreciated by the communities that we help,” he concludes.
UPDATE: October 12, 2009
An Israeli medical team left for the Philippines on Thursday last week taking with them a team of six doctors, nurses and paramedics, all volunteers from the Israeli non-profit organization F.I.R.S.T. Additional sponsors of the mission to the Philippines, include B’nai Brith International, and the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles. The Israeli team is expected to provide emergency medical treatment to the injured and will support the local healthcare system where many of the hospitals and health facilities were flooded. Healthcare officials in Thailand told IsraAID that they were “suddenly faced with a new situation” where they not only needed to take care of the sick and injured, but at the same time deal with relocating their own families to escape from the flooding.
The Israeli team arrived at Manila on Friday where they were greeted by Israel’s Ambassador to the Philippines. They participated in briefings with international bodies such as the Red Cross to establish where their help could be used most.
On Sunday, IsraAID reported that the Israeli team had treated 300 women and children affected by the typhoon. After a day on location Elad Seker, head of the relief mission said: “The need here is overwhelming. We opened a medical station and hundreds stood in line waiting for assistance. Most amazing, when the people heard that we came all the way from Israel they greeted us with love and open arms. Everyone here is talking about the Israeli delegation.”
Working hasn’t been without its difficulties, as another typhoon — Typhoon Pepeng — hit the northern and central parts of the country on Saturday, and the IsraAID team reports that government and aid agencies are having a difficult time getting to the hardest hit areas. An Israeli team may be deployed to this new disaster area. Talks are currently underway. The team now in the Philippines is expected to stay for two weeks, when they will be relieved by a second Israeli relief team.
Seker told the Christian Broadcast Network, which reports on Israel affairs: “The Jewish people and Israel have a special corner in our heart when we see poor people or people in big trouble. It’s like in the DNA or something. We can leave everything and go to help. To rescue, to help, to give medical treatment. It’s something. I don’t know how to say it in English but it’s very deep. It’s inside the DNA.”