Typhoon aftermath: Hundreds of S'poreans want to help

Typhoon aftermath: Hundreds of S'poreans want to help
Red Cross volunteer Doreen Tan (far right), 41, with members of her team (from left) Mr Sahari Bin Ani, 50, Mr Chew Lip Heng, 47, and Ms Eileen Lew, 35, catching a flight to the Philippines early Thursday morning.

SINGAPORE - Aid agencies have been swamped with offers from Singaporeans wanting to volunteer for relief efforts in the typhoon-stricken Philippines. Still, many are being turned away, with agencies sending only trained personnel given the seriousness of the disaster.

The Singapore Red Cross received more than 200 calls between Monday and Wednesday from people keen to pitch in with their time and money.

The humanitarian organisation is deploying around 35 volunteers. Its initial team of four "specially trained and Red Cross-registered" volunteers left on Thursday and three more bigger teams will be sent over the next two months.

Because of the overwhelming response, all spots are already filled. The Red Cross even has a "waiting list" with priority given to people with disaster-relief experience and specific qualifications such as medical certification.

"The first team will do relief distribution, disaster assessment, help in identifying beneficiaries, and work out the ingress routes so the next teams, which will likely be medical missions, can dispense aid effectively," said Ms Doreen Tan, one of the first four who set off early yesterday morning.

The 41-year-old, the manager of Singapore General Hospital's Preparedness and Response Department for emergency contingency planning, has been a Red Cross volunteer since 1995 and covered numerous disasters in the region.

Charity Mercy Relief has also been inundated with offers to help, getting an average of 10 calls an hour since Super Typhoon Haiyan hit Tacloban, the capital city of Leyte, a province in the Philippines, last Friday morning.

"We've had to turn away people who want to be deployed overseas. We had to explain to them that we are only taking trained personnel and that their time could be better used in other ways, such as setting up drives to raise funds," said a spokesman,

Mercy Relief already has two response teams in the Philippines, with the latest group in Ormoc armed with water filtration systems and relief supplies worth $30,000 "to address the critical needs of the survivors such as water, food and shelter". The team is also meeting local authorities and aid agencies to assess the situation at evacuation centres and the needs of those affected.

That is why their teams "have to be full-time Mercy Relief staff, and have to know about the humanitarian sector and be specially trained personnel", said the organisation's spokesman.

Touch Community Services does not need its volunteers to be staff but they have to be experienced and trained, such as IT manager Benjamin Tay, who has gone on six relief trips under the charity, including to Sichuan after the 2008 earthquake.

The 43-year-old was part of Touch's initial team to the Philippines, which left on Wednesday to assess the situation on the ground.

"A lot of people are struck by the images that they see in the media. And naturally, we all want to offer assistance. But I think we need to help responsibly," said Red Cross' Ms Tan.

"Proper training is needed, at the very least, to understand the different resources available in a disaster situation, plus basic medical training and knowledge of disaster communications and logistics handling."

hpeishan@sph.com.sg

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