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Disasters and Humanitarian Work~Eddy Hew

 

Part 2 ~ Continued from Into the Eye of the Storm, with Eddy Hew (Part 1)

FASTFORWARD TO MAY 12 in Nepal when the ground was shaking hard and people were screaming, crying, praying, terrified. They knew they were going through the same nightmare a second time.

Eddy Hew was outside the badly damaged Shalom AOG church in Kathmandu assisting the medical team with patient registration when it happened.

The medical team that was operating outside of the church
The medical team that was operating outside of the church before the quake
The long queue seeking medical aid just before the quake
The long queue seeking medical aid just before the quake

“I had gone through the 8.9-Aceh quake before,” Eddy recalled. “Normally aftershocks are short but in this quake, the ground was shaking hard in an upward thrust for more than 20 seconds,” he said, remembering that the shaking in Aceh was more like waves.

“I knew I had to stay still and keep my composure.  I was the most experienced in the team,” he said of his new volunteers. “We were already in a safe place being outside of the buildings at the time, there was no need for further evacuation and I knew all eyes were on me. So I was very aware not to make any sudden moves to cause panic.”

Part of the medical team in action
Part of the medical team in action

No one knew if this was another earthquake or aftershocks at the time but he said the duration and violence of the quake seemed too severe for aftershocks to him.

According to CNN and other sources, it was later confirmed that this was no aftershock but a magnitude 7.3 earthquake that killed another 65 people and injured close to 2,000 more, on top of the thousands the earlier quake had already killed and injured.  People died in adjoining countries too, such as the 17 in India who died as a result of the tremor, and a woman in Tibet who was killed by falling rocks, the Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua reported.

But thankfully, no one was killed or injured in Eddy’s vicinity although most were petrified, ashen, shaken, shell-shocked, tearful, traumatised.

Some of the tents outside buildings
Some of the tents outside buildings

And then as sudden as it began, it was over. And the noise came back on…“like the sound of 1000 wild dogs barking”, described someone in a foreign report. Everyone began frantically calling family members to check on their safety, said Eddy. Electricity was cut off. The phone lines were jammed. Eddy told them to try SMS instead and encouraged everyone to reach out to their families before resuming the clinic.

Most people were living outside under tents, afraid to go back into the buildings. (Photo from india.com)
Most people were living outside under tents, afraid to go back into the buildings. (Photo from india.com)

In the rest of the days that followed, he and his team managed to get across new rubble and wreckage to distribute the much-needed rice, lentils, kitchen kits, blankets, hygiene kits as well as tarpaulin and CGI corrugated sheets as makeshift shelter. There is still an urgent need for the CGI corrugated sheets.

It is now close to two months after the earthquake and Eddy may have left Nepal but the crisis and the rebuilding of shattered lives is far from over. In fact, it has hardly begun.

The manual transportation of CGI corrugated sheets over mountain terrain where access to survivors is near impossible
The manual transportation of CGI corrugated sheets over mountain terrain where access to survivors is near impossible

Accountability & Code of Conduct ─ Keep it in mind

“There is never-ending learning in Humanitarian Work especially on good practices in Accountability when engaging a targeted community in project planning and decision making,” he said, bringing up a huge concern over the misinterpretation or misunderstanding or misuse of the term Humanitarian Work.

Humanitarian Work is not Charity Work, he states, shedding light on the differences. “Many people still have a charity mindset that so long as a one-off help has been offered and the photos taken, it’s now over and done with.”

It’s not! Volunteers leave after a short-term mission but the people still need to struggle to survive.

The collapsed private hospital
The collapsed private hospital

“Check out the places in crisis around the world,” he suggested. “How many people even care about Darfur, or Somalia and all the many silent crises in the world? How do you balance resources and find better solutions by looking at it as a global issue while taking all of the stake holders especially the targeted communities into consideration?”

Humanitarian work is not what many people think it is.

“Sometimes, I cringe when I bring volunteers to missions,” he says. “They have such superior feelings over the locals and demand for things to be done for them.  They should keep such thoughts of comfort at home and focus on understanding the survivors’ plight.  Their task is to elevate or reduce their suffering not vice versa.”

Work in progress. Distributing aid to the victims. Far Left: The survivor bags all ready and packed up the night before
Work in progress. Distributing aid to the victims. Far Right: The survivor bags all ready and packed up the night before

Eddy notices that of late, disaster training is getting very popular in Malaysia and it is a big concern for him when Accountability is not a part of the training module.

“Too many people just do what they want to do and ignore the fact that they may do more

This is what Eddy looked like at the end of his mission on 19 May, as he was boarding the plane back to KL
This is what Eddy looked like at the end of his mission on 19 May, as he boarded the plane in Kathmandu airport to go home

harm than good. For example, many volunteers do not bother to have a need assessment in place. They just do what they think is right without engaging the targeted community. If you want to distribute rice and you bring just 50 bags for 50 families to a village where there are 120 families, what kind of situation do you think you have just created?

“One must uphold professionalism in their humanitarian work. I have been preaching all over about the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) Code of Conduct wherever and whenever I can so people realise it is crucial to have keep Accountability in mind in their humanitarian work.”

A visit to the IFRC website that explains about its Code of Conduct and Accountability brings up this excerpt:

Principles of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in Disaster Response Programmes

  1. The humanitarian imperative comes first.
  2. Aid is given regardless of the race, creed or nationality of the recipients and without adverse distinction of any kind. Aid priorities are calculated on the basis of need alone.
  3. Aid will not be used to further a particular political or religious standpoint.
  4. We shall endeavour not to act as instruments of government foreign policy.
  5. We shall respect culture and custom.
  6. We shall attempt to build disaster response on local capacities.
  7. Ways shall be found to involve programme beneficiaries in the management of relief aid.
  8. Relief aid must strive to reduce future vulnerabilities to disaster as well as meeting basic needs.
  9. We hold ourselves accountable to both those we seek to assist and those from whom we accept resources.
  10. In our information, publicity and advertizing activities, we shall recognize disaster victims as dignified human beings, not hopeless objects.

“The Code of Conduct for IFRC and NGOs in Disaster Relief, was developed and agreed upon by eight of the world’s largest disaster response agencies in 1994,” writes the site. “It is hoped that humanitarian actors around the world will commit themselves publicly to the code by becoming a signatory and by abiding by its principles. Governments and donor organizations may want to use the code as a yardstick against which to measure the conduct of those agencies with which they work. Disaster-affected communities have a right to expect that those who assist them measure up to these standards.”

Devastation (Pic from fscnepal.org)
Devastation (Pic from fscnepal.org)

So, by all means, those who wish to volunteer for the service should go ahead and volunteer but one must be reminded that Humanitarian Work is, as Eddy puts it: “Not a break out of one’s ordinary life that you try to get away from to do something that makes you feel good.” It must come from the heart and with sincerity and remember, reminds Eddy: “God is watching.”

See Part 1 of story.

Continued from Into the Eye of the Storm, with Eddy Hew (Part1)

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