Charity & Service

Continued (part 3)…Philippine Disaster Medical Aid

Sunday morning, November 18

By now, I’m firmly in Greek hero mode. In a Medusa-like way, I note that after I’ve cut one monster’s head off another immediately arises. I travel from home (in the country) to the airport every six weeks or so, and have done so without problem for years. This is Sunday at 5am and I can’t call for a taxi as my home phone is suddenly not working; can’t use my mobile as it’s been switched to satellite and will only work in the Philippines. There are no passing taxis and I wonder if I am going to be the one to sabotage this trip by not turning up to the flight.From here on in every delay becomes stressful as I know that we can’t allow these vaccines to warm up.  I wake up a neighbour and get help.

Sunday afternoon

From experience, I know how difficult customs can be with medication. Luckily, we have been invited by the head of Tacloban risk management, and clutch a letter inviting us. Big sigh of relief.

US Marines

We now get a taxi to the US Villamura air base where we’ve been assured the ”help desk” will get us on a flight, as they have our name on a priority list. Of course, it turns out there is no help desk and no one in this US Marine dominated area have heard of us. There are very few flights going out that day, as the Phillippine president is visiting Tacloban, and the airport has been closed!  Nick’s and my stress starts to build again. In this small lounge there are three Spanish firefighters who have been waiting since 2 am to get on a flight so they can install water filtration equipment plus two journalists.

philippine disaster 4We again show our Holy Grail letter.  A rugged US Delta force general interviews me about my activities and assesses us. Nick is ex-army (SAS), and said (I thought rather tactfully) to me on arrival, “Best leave it to us moustache-types to sort this out Susan”.

So I left it to him gleaning information from the journalists who had already been there. Nick and I both thought it strange that there weren’t any medical aid people in this lounge. Seems like it was true what Buddy said about lack of aid.

The American attaché stepped in, saying that Philippine-organized aid had to get priority. Before we knew it we were on the next flight, squatting on the floor of the plane with a lot of bags of canned food and a WHO lady who was going go to Tacloban to  ”assess the situation”.

Short film from Tacloban

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Continued (part 2)…Philippine Disaster Medical Aid

Thursday, November 15

I put in an order to Glaxo for Hepatitis A vaccine and antibiotics. I paid for them personally – no time to raise funds here. Vaccines take two weeks to work, so vaccinations need to be done now.

Unbelievably, even though I have been a  customer for over 20 years, paying around half a million dollars for medications to be given to charity, their Zeleug distributor told us ”they were too busy stocktaking and the warehouse was closed”. Mike Saunders, my practice manager, took over. After lengthy discussions there was a promise of Saturday morning delivery to my office.

The rest of the day was spent preparing dressings, creams, eye drops, and other aid.

Endless Philippine department of health drug import and ”Deed of Donation” forms are filled out by my nurse and Mike.

No air space permission was forthcoming and vague promises of seats on a US military C109 from Manila to Tacloban.

We paid for tickets to fly at 830am Sunday to Manila.

Friday, November 16

philippine disaster 3The distributor tells us  they don’t want to deliver the required antibiotics.  Stocktaking  again reared its ugly head. I was beginning to feel like a Greek hero who had to overcome one battle after the other. I can’t believe it – this is my business and the only thing I can be really confident of, and it’s proving the hardest. However, others came to my aid. A local medical practice donated them to us on Friday afternoon. We plan for eight people to be in the practice Saturday morning to take vaccines out of boxes and put in the fridge overnight. Then Nick and Mike would be in the office at 5am Sunday to repack them with cold blocks and meet me at the airport.


Saturday, November 17

We all wait, and wait all day. No one anywhere available on the phone. Everyone is panicked, however there’s nothing I can do aside from being calm, and praying.  At 5 pm I get a call. Apologies… and the  vaccines are delivered at 7pm, when there are only three of us left in the office. Saturday night plans change quickly for my staff and friends.


Continued…(Part 3)


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Philippine Disaster Medical Aid


phippine disaster 1“Well, we could get you on a military flight there,” Celeste said. “Getting you back is the problem, as the locals are queuing for days. Even my relatives are trying to get out, as they’re sick of the smell of dead bodies.”

Crazy? I’m in a devastated city of a quarter million people, staying in a home with no electricity or running water, canned food only, and all the criminals are running free because the prisons have also been torn to shreds by typhoon Haiyan. I’m frankly scared. I may be resourceful, but my only training is medical.

I’m wondering what on Earth made me decide to take this trip on. No one forced me. I saw an opportunity and took it. I knew I could do it.


philippine disaster 2Tuesday  November 13

My trip to  Tacloban on Sunday November 19  had been prompted by meeting my downstairs Filipina neighbour Celeste for the first time on Tuesday night. Over a commiserating glass of wine, she told me that her father’s job before the disaster in her homeland had been chief of traffic and also disaster risk management.

According to her Dad – Buddy Estudillo – there was no medical aid at that time.

Previous experience

This scenario reminded me of my Sri Lankan experience, when locals invited me to vaccinate against water-borne disease in the first week after the Tsunami.  I explained that in these situations more people could die of infectious disease such as hepatitis. That because of lack of clean drinking water and also no hand washing after going to the toilet, these diseases could be the last straw for a stressed undernourished body. Also, in that week I didn’t see another aid worker. Their vehicles and aid had been impounded by the Sri Lankan government or stolen, and so they were paralyzed. Somehow it had been simpler for someone like me, with the support of locals in the ground, to do some good work.

Hearing first hand of the trials and tribulations of these people with nothing left meant more than watching news footage. There and then I decided to go to give aid personally. My advantage is that I’m not a large aid agency with layers of bureaucracy and protocols. I decide a plan, then make it happen (and I pray a lot!).


Celeste, her Dad and I made a plan over the next two days. It wasn’t easy due to communication problems and intermittent mobile reception, but we soon had a plan. Buddy said people had received tetanus vaccine, however water was a problem and they were worried about people contracting a fatal disease called leptospirosis, contracted from rats, which were already beginning to overrun the place.

Having experience of this, I know that to medicate and vaccinate thousands there are two main problems – vaccines can’t be out of the fridge for long, and because there are many boxes it’s too much to carry.

Wednesday, November 14

Nick Thompson, friend and local pilot, walked into my Hong Kong medical office. “My plane’s co-owner and I have come up with an idea of us flying the plane from Penang, to Tacloban. We can take aid. Or, if you can get in yourself, with our small plane we can pick you up. We are applying for flight plan permission.”

Now things were falling into place. I knew, that one way or the other I was going.

Continued…(Part 2)


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Helping underprivileged children in Hong Kong

birthday-happiness-logoShe is a co-founder in 2007 – Setting up and serving as chair for Hong Kong charity ‘Birthday Happiness‘,  after meeting the founder, Edward Fernandzez, on a slow ferry whilst trying to write her first book! On hearing how this format had been successful in other parts of the world, in improving self esteem and even exam results as a consequence, she decided to assist in registering with the Government and finding volunteers. Since then, the charity has provided a birthday party for the underprivileged children of Hong Kong each week. These parties have a role to play in diversity issues, as well as targeting low income families to take hundreds to government sponsored adventure parks. By enabling the family to have a day out together, they reinforce the traditional Chinese values of the cohesive family unit.

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Chengdu earthquake relief

In cooperation with the local government of Chengdu, Dr Jamieson presented three trauma relief workshops.

Three years after the Earthquake, local people who had watched their children being crushed under collapsed schools, had had no outlet for their grief and anger, to the extent that women were suffering from unexplained infertility.

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