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Into the Eye of the Storm, with Eddy Hew

 

Part 1 ~ See Disasters and Humanitarian Work~Eddy Hew (Part 2)

EDDY HEW, 51, was sitting at the registration table under a tent of a makeshift clinic outside of a church in Kathmandu when the ground started to seize and spasm beneath him.

It was May 12th, 2015. A second earthquake had struck, tearing through Nepal barely 17 days after the first seismic activity. It triggered an avalanche on Mount Everest and flattened whole towns and villages, killing more than 6,000, injuring 14,000, with thousands more still unaccounted for till today.

This time, Eddy was in the thick of it.

Left: Eddy (centre) as he was leaving for Nepal as part of CREST's 3-persons Rapid Assessment Team to the Nepal earthquake, and Eddy, at the end of his mission, coming back to Kuala Lumpur from Kathmandu
Left: Eddy (centre) as he was leaving for Nepal as part of CREST’s 3-persons Rapid Assessment Team to the Nepal earthquake, and Eddy, at the end of his mission, coming back to Kuala Lumpur from Kathmandu

As dust flew and buildings fell and people held on to each other, praying and crying and bracing for the worst, Eddy stayed calm and counted to five.

That’s his protocol. Remain calm in the event of a quake and apply the 5-second rule while scanning the surroundings for an evacuation route and the next course of action.

Eddy has a technique because he is an Operations and Training Consultant attached with Crisis Relief Services and Training Bhd (CREST), an NGO that deploys volunteer teams and humanitarian aid to crisis and disaster-struck zones across the world.

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

In fact, Eddy was in Kathmandu at that very moment because he was sent there as part of a three-persons Rapid Assessment Team to provide immediate aid and also to assess the situation for further action down the line.

The people, he was to tell me later, are in dire, urgent need, especially for CGI corrugated sheets because the rainy season has begun and they are sleeping in the open ground, afraid of further building collapse in the aftershocks.  In the mountain areas, rain is coming down as hailstones.

Ten years in humanitarian missions and Eddy had seen the worst. Snowstorms, landslides, floods, drought, typhoons, cyclones, tsunami, war and conflict and of course earthquakes.

This picture speaks for itself (Pic from CNN)
This picture speaks for itself (Pic from CNN)

In these 10 years, his work has brought him to serve across North Korea to North Africa and all the countries in between ─ firstly, to distribute immediate relief items to the victims for survival but mostly to inspire the rebuilding of the human spirit and motivate community resilience against further adversity.  Eddy gives mission training to volunteers (he designed the modules) and he gives talks, workshops and conferences in disaster preparedness to survivor communities and the pubic at large as well.

A man sits in the ruins of what was once his home (Pic from abc.net)
A man sits in the ruins of what was once his home (Pic from abc.net)

This is no cushy job.  I asked what compelled him to do all this.

“You could say compassion to help others,” he replied. “The most heart wrenching is to see the suffering of children. When you try to make a child smile and the child doesn’t smile back at you, that just breaks my heart. You ask, does the child have hope for the future? Is tomorrow just another day to struggle to survive? There is so much depair in his eyes, confusion too, especially in war-torn zones. I always try to bring balloons to missions and cheer the children whenever I can.”

Eddy, bringing smiles to the children with his balloon "magic". This picture was taken just before the crowd built up
Eddy, bringing smiles to the children with his balloon “magic”. This picture was taken just before the crowd built up

Eddy’s job is thus to fix what’s broken, and that’s a monumental task but his biggest motivation is to see a community that he has assisted being able to prepare themselves for disaster in the future. It’s called empowering others.

“A group of women in Quezon City had organized themselves for disaster preparedness since Typhoon Ondoy five years ago and I managed to revisit them twice over the years,” he shared. “Seeing how they have learnt to lead the community in evacuation and disaster preparedness makes me feel like I have received the best reward in the world.”

He speaks of present rewards but this wasn’t always Eddy’s life goal from the start.

More balloon entertainment for the children
More balloon entertainment for the children

A quick rewind back through the years and Eddy wasn’t knee-deep in disasters, war and strife. Once upon a time, Eddy was in a very different world. That world was the chic and swanky business of high fashion and lifestyle retail and he was in merchandising and sales. Eddy majored in marketing management and was a senior marketing manager making the rounds in the corporate boardrooms for a long time.

Until 2000 that is, when he joined his missionary friends in Kriek, Cambodia to help with outreach programmes in churches and prisons. While there, he engaged with the people and got to plan organisational charts and basic management with hospitals. That was when his rose-tinted glasses fell off and he began to see the world through different eyes.

Many survivors were up in the mountains and getting help to them was difficult, as can be seen in these pictures. In the mountains, rain comes down as hailstones
Many survivors were up in the mountains when the quake happened and getting help to them was very difficult, as can be seen in these pictures. In the mountains, rain comes down as hailstones

“It was a wakeup call,” he said of his initial experience. “I realised that humanitarian work can actually help local governments strengthen their health systems through working with others. But what opened my eyes the most was observing how a war-torn country could begin taking shape into recovery with proper coordination, cooperation and planning.”

It took another four years of career consideration when in late 2004, he again volunteered in Cambodia for one month. When he returned, the tsunamis in Aceh, Indonesia happened and someone recommended that he volunteered with MERCY Malaysia.

“I joined initially as logistics, working in the warehouse sorting out goods and inventory. Then I was asked to be part of the logistic unit in Aceh for four months.”

In the midst of distributing rice and CGI corrugated sheets as makeshift roofing
In the midst of distributing rice and CGI corrugated sheets as makeshift roofing

The rest, as they say, was kismet. Eddy never turned back and has been running towards, not away from disasters eversince.

Eddy still volunteers at MERCY Malaysia ─ the main NGO providing Humanitarian relief missions to disaster areas around the world. Now, he is with CREST, a similar NGO providing teams for disaster relief.

When I called for the interview, he was rushing off to Kuala Lipis to assist in rebuilding a flood-damaged kampong due to December’s East Coast floods.

“The entire kampong and its houses were submerged in 15ft of water for days,” he said. As in every project, after response during the emergency stage, one must already plan the recovery and development stages for the short, middle to long term.

The plan was to initiate Disaster Risk Reduction projects including irrigation and community farming and disaster preparedness projects, after the repair to the houses.

This was right after he had just come back from one month in Temangan in Machang, Kelantan, also affected during the East Coast floods. He was there to coordinate projects for relief goods distribution, repair to damaged houses and schools and implement disaster risk reduction measures for the future.

nice shot cropped

And then it was off to Sabah to give talks and training.  He was there when the 6.0 earthquake struck Ranau on June 5 ─ the strongest in Malaysia since 1976 ─ bringing landslides, toppling infrastructure, and killing 18 people and wounding 11.

“And I had just given a talk and training session on disaster preparedness including earthquakes when it happened,” he said. The timing was impeccable.

See Disasters and Humanitarian Work with Eddy Hew (Part 2)

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