Local agency heads to Philippines

It has been nearly one week since Typhoon Haiyan battered the central Philippines with 20-foot waves and wind gusts of over 200 kilometres per hour.

Since then, aid agencies all over the world have converged on the scene in hopes of providing food, shelter and clothing to the hundreds of thousands of residents displaced by the storm.

Now, a local aid group, with experience in these types of disasters, is also making plans to attend the scene and do what they can to erect permanent shelters for residents in some of the hardest hit areas of the country.

Shelters International Disaster Response (SIDR) has officially been around for three years, but president Laura Allan helped with her first disaster relief effort while in Morocco 13 years ago.

“I watched people walk 20-miles for a pail of water and just said no,” explains Allan.

“I came home and worked my butt off landscaping, saved my money and went back to Morocco. I bought a 45-gallon drum, ran a gravity feed and they didn’t have to walk 20 miles anymore.”

Ever since that point, Allan has been helping out where she can, including stints in Bangladesh, Haiti, and a previous tour of the Philippines earlier this year. Now, in 10 days, she will be returning with seven other Kelowna volunteers to help where they can until their funds run out.

“We’re basically all volunteers and we pay our own way in,” says Allan, laughing that even as president she has never taken any type of salary from this program.

“We’re going to roll in there and the first step is clearing the debris and the second step is building permanent shelters. We recycle what we can and we’re the only ones that will be building permanent shelters.”

Allan is unsure where they will set up once they land in Cebu City, a major hub centralized to where the storm struck. Her team feels most aid agencies will congregate in Tacloban City on the east coast, so SIDR will instead head towards the areas that haven’t yet seen help.

“We’re going into the areas that nobody’s gotten to. That’s what we’re all about,” she says.

“We get out and walk the streets. Other agencies send a local, and what’s he going to do? See his friends. He’s not going to see who necessarily needs (help). We personally walk the street, meet the people and see exactly what they need.”

And what Allan needs is volunteers, supplies or donations in order to help those people that have been displaced. Volunteers are asked to commit two months of their time and have at least some construction skills. Good quality tool donations such as compound mitre saws, cordless drills with extra batteries, bolt cutters for cutting rebar, and chainsaws would also be appreciated.

She would also like a fund to buy tarps rather than have them donated, as they can be bought in Manilla. She has already contacted UN operations on the ground who say they can move them to her for free.

“I got addicted to (helping people). It’s not something I’ll ever make money at, (but) it feels good,” says Allan.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time, and it’s really cool going in there and making some reason come out of the chaos.”

Allan also believes in transparency in terms of the work she does, understanding that some donors can be leery of people capitalizing on disaster situations. That’s why she has offered to give receipts to large donations.

“In this day and age, everyone’s always wondering where their money is going. This is one agency where if someone made a large donation, I would send them receipts for every single thing that I spent it on,” notes Allan.

“I’ve always been really transparent that way, it's just being honest. You always want to know where your money goes and with Shelters, one hundred per cent goes where it’s supposed to go."

“We’re all self funded, so you can only work as long as you have money to eat and we stay as long as we can – as long as there’s a bag of rice and a couple of vegetables, we’re staying.”

Anyone looking to help with disaster relief as a volunteer or donor, can contact her through the website, or call 1-250-681-3594.

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