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News Maryland Baltimore City

Baltimore-area nonprofits begin relief efforts in Philippines

Jo-Ann de Belen, who works for Baltimore-based nonprofit World Relief, was recently mobilized to the Philippines to coordinate relief efforts after Typhoon Haiyan ravaged the region and left thousands dead.

Though she has worked in crisis situations since joining the organization in 2009, the devastation left by the storm has affected her.

Belen, who is Filipino, volunteered to be the sole World Relief representative stationed in the Philippines in part because she was motivated to help her native country.

"It would be like [a] Brooklyn-born EMT after Hurricane Sandy," Diana Smith, disaster response program officer for World Relief, said. "No matter where they were living and working, they'd want to go back and help."

Belen is one of several relief workers connected to Baltimore-area nonprofits helping those affected by Haiyan, which made landfall in the Philippines on Nov.7.

In the first phase of its assistance plan, World Relief expects to work with Filipino agencies to provide food packets and housing repairs to 7,000 families who were impacted by the typhoon. Smith said Belen will stay in the Philippines for about two months to assess how to carry out the effort, though the entire mission will likely take more than two years.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, a Filipino government agency, announced last week the most recent death count from the storm, whose strength experts said was the equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane, was more than 3,600.

Catholic Relief Services is immediately focused on providing nonfood necessities and temporary shelters for 30,000 households. The nonprofit, which has 23 workers on site who are trained for disaster relief efforts, has already delivered supplies to the ravaged region and plans to stay about eight months.

Pat Johns, director of staff safety and security for Catholic Relief Services, said workers have reported seeing "a lot of devastation" in the Philippines.

"[Haiyan] was really unprecedented," Johns said. "The Philippines is really disaster prone, but the people have gotten really good at responding to these."

Still, Johns said security is a major concern because people tend to mob the aid workers when relief items are brought in.

Marieta Caragay, president of the Hunt Valley-based Foundation for Aid to the Philippines, was immediately spurred to action after hearing about the impact of Haiyan. She contacted other members of the group seeking donations, and had accrued a garage-full of necessities by the end of last week. The group's primary focus is usually helping the poor in the Philippines.

Caragay, who is from the Philippines, said one member of the organization had family members who lost their homes to the storm, but all other relatives of group members were safe.

"It is really devastating and our hearts go out to them," she said.

How to help

Visit the following websites to find out how you can assist these local organizations in their relief efforts.

World Relief at worldrelief.org/donate

Catholic Relief Services at crs.org/donate

Foundation for Aid to the Philippines at fapi.org

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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