Stories of generosity, faith and neighborly love in post-Yutu NMI

CHRISTMAS Eve will mark the two-month anniversary of Super Typhoon Yutu’s landfall, and while the CNMI remains raw in its initial phases of recovery, this holiday season may offer more stories of generosity, faith, and neighborly love than ever before.

In fact, there are so many ongoing relief efforts on island that it has required serious organizational skill to offer support, comfort, and holiday cheer to our community in its time of need.

“With so many groups helping, it can be a challenge to get a handle on what everyone is doing and make sure those efforts are coordinated together,” said Michael Kern, voluntary agency liaison group supervisor for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “Thankfully there is already a network of agencies in place, called Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster or VOAD which has been meeting weekly since the typhoon.”

According to multiple sources, typhoon relief has arrived faster and more effectively than ever due to enhanced communication between federal agencies, our local government, and our islands’ many non-profit organizations at VOAD meetings, which are attended by representatives of the governor’s office, FEMA, Marianas Young Professionals or MYPros, American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, Grace Christian Academy, Mennonite Disaster Services, Empty Vessel, Commonwealth Healthcare Corp., Micronesia Islands Nature Alliance, Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventist Church, Center for Living Independently, Commonwealth Office of Transport Authority, Northern Marianas College, Disaster Legal Services, and Immanuel United Methodist Church.

“This is the best cooperative forum to coordinate efforts, communicate with each other, and find new opportunities for collaboration to support disaster survivors,” said Kern. “Any groups providing assistance are encouraged to connect with VOAD.”

“I think the level of collaboration and cooperation amongst all the stakeholders is improving,” said John Hirsh, executive director for the American Red Cross-NMI chapter. Hirsh explained that even though FEMA has a “blank checkbook” from the U.S. government, “they can’t do it by themselves — they need to be working with community stakeholders and with the local government to make sure that what they’re doing is successful.”

He said the VOAD meetings facilitate that process:

“Everyone’s showing what their resources are, whether they’re human resources or material resources, and trying to work together… so that we’re not duplicating benefits or duplicating efforts and whatever scarce resources we have are being given to the people that need them most.”

Since Yutu hit, ARC has provided well over 100,000 meals to evacuation shelter residents; 2,500 cases of water; just under 10,000 hygiene kits; and over 130,000 additional relief items including mosquito nets, mosquito coils, tarps, solar stoves, and flashlights. They’ve also offered financial assistance to just under 5,000 families, and medical health services and mental health services to 2,300 and 2,400 individuals, respectively.

But now that the CNMI is transitioning from immediate to long-term recovery response, the Red Cross’s thousands of recovery cases will be managed by the local non-profit Karidat, which had a late start in recovery efforts due to their own roof flying during the storm.

“We had just dedicated our building on October 19th, then the storm came on the 24th and 25th,” said Karidat executive director Lauri Ogumoro. “We were pretty devastated by that.”

But like so many organizations, businesses, and individuals in the CNMI, Karidat bounced back as quickly as possible, for the sole purpose of helping others do the same.

“We are now doing the long-term recovery case management,” Ogumoro said. “Karidat is helping people that fall through the cracks or just don’t have enough assistance to get them back on their feet… whether it’s a car payment, rental assistance, food, even if they just need some mosquito nets.”

Ogumoro says that different businesses and organizations like Bank of Guam, Red Cross and MYPros give Karidat supplies to allocate as they see fit.

Gerard “G.” van Gils says that MYPros has been doing the same with volunteers — they helped assign work to 12 U.S. Marines and 17 missionaries from the Church of the Latter-Day Saints or LDS, along with the 100-200 CNMI locals who volunteered daily during the first month after Yutu.

“We’ve been doing village clean-ups since the beginning and we’ve just moved mountains of debris,” he told Variety. MYPros also served approximately 70,000 meals that first month, the majority of which were supplied by the government, the Salvation Army, and other organizations.

“It’s all about meeting gaps,” he explained. “Wherever there’s a gap, we want to try to support our partners to get there.”

For example, MYPros set about clearing debris from private lots where U.S. servicemembers were planning to set up tents. MYPros also footed the bill for some tools and toys for therapists working at the Public School System shelters.

“It was easier for MYPros to donate $1,000 to purchasing those things than it was for PSS to do a whole procurement effort and get it approved,” he explained. “So these are just examples of how we’re meeting weird needs, intermediate needs for different organizations.”

Sister Hyatt of the LDS said that working with MYPros “takes a physical toll because from sunrise to sunset we’re working,” but “to see how many people are suffering from the typhoon and yet still have found a way to smile, to say everything will be ok and start helping out their neighbors, that makes it all worth it.”

Van Gils said that the last two months’ worth of relief efforts have been “really, really wonderful and exhausting.”

“People keep saying thank you to me, and I accept that gratitude, but it’s really your neighbors who are doing everything,” he added. “It’s our community who is stepping up and helping their neighbors…we’ve served here in some capacity, but I think we all need to share that love and gratitude.”

“We’re fortunate to live in this community that is very helpful and resilient,” said Lauri Ogumoro. She acknowledged that Karidat has years of recovery work ahead of it, but also said that helping the CNMI community “is always worth it, because they’re worth it.”

“Doing disaster work you encounter people in their most challenging moments but you also get to see people come together to help and bring out the best in each other,” Kern said. “It is truly a privilege to be a part of that collective effort.”

Source: Marianas Variety :

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