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Heading to the Philippines

Doing her part: Denise Reimer heads out to volunteer in the Philippines, where she’ll be until Dec. 24.  - James Murray/Observer
Doing her part: Denise Reimer heads out to volunteer in the Philippines, where she’ll be until Dec. 24.
— image credit: James Murray/Observer

For Denise Reimer, volunteering overseas is a way to give and to receive.

Reimer travelled to Pakistan in September 2010 after the floods as part of a medical team provided by non-governmental organization, Canadian Medical Assistance Teams (CMAT). CMAT is a Canadian-based disaster relief organization made up of volunteer health professionals and non-health volunteers who provide assistance to victims of natural and man-made disasters.

In Pakistan, Reimer spent four weeks in 45C temperatures and 100 per cent humidity where the team would see patients during 12- to 14-hour days, treating malaria, tetanus, dehydration – even delivering babies.

“It was a very humbling experience. You can read all you want, study, think you understand what it’s like, but it’s nothing like walking into an IDP (internally displaced persons) camp of 100,000,” she says.

“The humility of these people and the resilience is what really stood out for me. Moms with eight or 10 kids following behind them, living in a tent in the dirt... It was beyond anything that I had imagined.”

She remembers one woman, nine months’ pregnant, who had walked for two days with her children to get to the camp and then delivered her twins herself in her tent.

“She was out getting food for her kids in the morning.”

One day Reimer volunteered to give out small, donated day packs. She expected the children to line up, but it turned out to be more of a desperate mosh pit. A friend who works in aid explained that line-ups only work if participants think they’ll get to the front of the line.

“The little faces, they’re burned into your memory,” Reimer says.

She has now headed off to volunteer again.

This past Friday she left for the Philippines, where she will spend two weeks. Because city council meetings have wrapped up for the year, the timing worked out for her as a city councillor, she said.

This time CMAT, which Reimer volunteered with previously, is partnering with Clarion Global Response.

The plan for her stay includes heading first to Ormoc City to a field hospital that sees 100 to 200 patients per day. She expects to spend more of her time travelling with mobile clinics.

“Some of these little villages haven’t had any aid (since Super Typhoon Haiyan struck on Nov. 13), when it comes to health care.”

She said the situation in the Philippines will be a lot more acute than it was in Pakistan.

“In Pakistan it happened in spring and we didn’t get there until September. The thing with Pakistan, it was like a slow death for those people... They’re still suffering over there.”

Despite the suffering, people’s generosity didn’t wane.

“People were so kind... They had nothing but they were willing to share everything. That was a pretty amazing thing to see.”

She also noticed how strong the sense of family is, that people stick together no matter what.

Reimer’s time in Pakistan also emphasized that everyone has something to contribute.

“I’m really fortunate  I have these skills...,” she says of her medical training. “When I talk to people around town, they say ‘I’d love to do something like that.’ There are lots of opportunities out there... and it’s so fulfilling.”

It’s back to basic human connections, she says.

“Sometimes just holding somebody’s hand, being there with them because they’ve lost everything... Ultimately I come back with more than I give...

“We don’t choose where we’re born. We’re so fortunate to be living in this country,” she says, explaining her volunteering puts things into perspective. “It’s so grounding.”

Christmas, she says, is a fitting time to go.

“Christmas is a time of reflection and family and these people are going through probably the worst time in their lives. I feel it’s like a gift to me to go there.”

 

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