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Posted November 21, 2013 | comments Leave a comment

Team arrives to help Filipinos

By Alex Bridges

Local relief agency Project HOPE has sent its first team of volunteers to the typhoon-ravaged Philippines.

The first deployment of volunteers from the Clarke County-based organization includes experts in logistics, trauma care and social work, according to a Project HOPE press release.

Project HOPE Media Relations Specialist Geraldine Carroll said the relief organization had three volunteers arriving in the Philippines on Thursday morning. Three more volunteers are scheduled to arrive over the next few days beginning today, Carroll said. The group comprises Project HOPE's first team, which will join Fred Gerber and Matthew Peterson who are overseeing the operation.

The group went to the Philippines to plan logistics and assess the medical needs for the survivors ahead of the organization's humanitarian mission with the U.S. Navy. Project HOPE expects to send medical workers as volunteers with the navy to aid other agencies

Peterson provided first-hand information to the Daily, via email, of the work underway by Project HOPE in the Philippines. Peterson is currently in Manila, Carroll said.

"As the manager of our international volunteer department, I am working as part of Project HOPE's Advance Party, along with my Director of Special Programs and Operations, Mr. Fred Gerber, to establish a Forward Operating Base for the reception of HOPE volunteers into the Philippines in support of the disaster response effort," Peterson stated. "We are embarking two experienced HOPE medical liaison teams from Tacloban, via US Navy helicopters, to join the Navy's Component Command and Control leadership aboard the USS COWPENS (Flagship) and one additional amphibious ship on [Friday].

"The mission for our teams is to provide front line coordination and communication with the U.S. Navy on behalf of Project HOPE to ensure the organization is ready to quickly respond to any medical requirements the Navy may have moving forward," Petersen added. "HOPE's senior medical liaison teams are comprised of high ranking former U.S. Department of Defense subject matter experts."

Peterson further explained the first team's mission.

"Additionally, our Advance Party will visit the most affected areas, together with a HOPE Bereavement Specialist and Emergency Medicine, Health Facilities Assessment team and Healthcare Emergency Management trainers," Peterson stated. "As [a] qualified Expert Field Medics and operators in our former military medical career, we will assess needs and capabilities across the disaster area to best position volunteer assets to provide the most help possible in the near future."

Carroll noted that Peterson has not yet visited disaster sites and could not provide details about the state of the roads and transportation systems. Accounts from media sources and the country's government indicates the storm damaged roads and medical centers.

Project HOPE heeded the Philippines call for help and last week announced the agency would send $1 million in donated medical supplies and medicine to the Philippines for distribution to health workers already in the country.

Another team of experts with Project HOPE traveled to the northern province of Cebu to meet with the country's Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization officials advising relief groups. Experts visited hospitals and health facilities in Daan Batayan, north of Bogo City, to assess immediate and long-term needs.

The massive Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines on Nov. 8. The storm affected 13 million people and displaced more than 4 million survivors. Access and logistics conditions continue to improve and allow rescuers to bring food to 2.5 million survivors. The storm destroyed much of the country's health facilities and infrastructure and experts say this creates a challenge for aid workers trying to address the medical needs of the survivors.

Project HOPE began working with the U.S. Navy and Air Force in 2005 to conduct annual, medical humanitarian missions. Project HOPE medical volunteers joined the four-month, Pacific Partnership 2012 mission aboard the USNS Mercy hospital ship to provide health care and education to communities in the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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