Interviewed and photographed
By Jude Bautista
Last February 10, 2014 Red Cross Society of China in the persons of their EVP Dr. Baige Zhao turned over 166 classrooms to Phil Red Cross Chairman and CEO Richard Gordon in Tacloban. One of the many figures in attendance was Steven McAndrew who is the Intl Federation of Red Cross Societies Head of Operations for the Philippines.
McAndrew has extensive experience abroad working and providing aid in many different parts of the world where there have been disasters. He was head of operations in Haiti after the devastating earthquake. He spent more than half of last year in the Middle East Crisis affecting Syria and Lybia. Before that he was in South America and Africa.
In this interview he provides invaluable insight in comparing the damage and scale of the disaster. The Philippines being an archipelago presents immense logistical challenge. In this interview he indicates that there is still so much work to be done. But the Filipino spirit is one that we can be proud of and provides hope in such a bleak time.
–How would you compare the devastation here to other places that you’ve been?
I would say the devastation itself I’ve seen worse especially with Haiti. The devastation with Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines is a real challenge because it’s so spread out. It’s all over different islands so the logistical challenge for us to get into all these areas is really daunting. And the devastation itself we have about 3 different disasters: a storm surge, which, is almost, like a tsunami, we have some places with flooding, we have wind damage and now we have crop loss. So it’s about 4 different disasters in one. That’s really unique.
–How would you describe the Filipino attitude or psyche in all of this?
The people in the Philippines are really resilient. They’re actually providing an example to the world of how to pick yourself up and get back together themselves. Aid agencies like us, like the Red Cross is excellent in helping. This is what we do. The main person that helps after disasters are the persons themselves. The more we line up and work with them the more effective we are. Just the speed and the good spirits of the Philippine people here is an example for the whole world. They can inspire people from around the world with how quickly they’re putting themselves back together. They’re not sitting around waiting for aid. They’re actually helping us. We’re getting more out of this than we’re putting in.
–Can you talk about the support from Red Cross Society of China?
The support from China and the Chinese Red Cross has been absolutely fantastic. They did 166 classrooms, good classrooms. They’re cool on hot days and warm on colder days they’re insulated good windows, good doors and good installations. They were done really fast. I don’t think anyone can do faster than this. Now children can have their classes in these classrooms and at the same time the municipalities and the school boards can repair and reconstruct the permanent facilities. These temporary classrooms are gonna last long enough to make that bridge, To bridge that gap between fixing the main buildings. A lot of them were really destroyed. So this is an absolutely excellent support from Chinese Red Cross. It’s really good and impressive. I’m impressed and anyone would be to see how fast and the quality they’ve done here.
–There’s presently a word war between our president and China right now because of the Chinese incursion to our sea territories.
One of the advantages of Red Cross and the Red Crescent movement is that we have principles of neutrality and independence. So we have a privilege, we just go where the need is. Its not about politics at all, it’s the same all over the world. We were in Syria last year and we were the only ones there. They provide aid because people know who we are. It’s the same here in the Philippines, it’s the same in Africa, and it’s the same in Haiti. When you see the Red Cross, the Red Crescent you know it’s a neutral organization addressing the most vulnerable and the most needy. So we have an advantage, we can work like that. All sides can recognize that.