Forward Edge organizes Philippines assistance

Relief organization acts in wake of deadly typhoon

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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Forward Edge International

A Vancouver-based relief organization is gearing up to help typhoon victims in the Philippines. Based on recent — and not so recent — disaster responses, Forward Edge International will be there for a while.

A five-person team recently spent a week in a storm-stricken area near the coastal city of Tacloban.

They saw first-hand what happened when Typhoon Haiyan devastated that area, said Joe Anfuso, the agency's president and CEO. They heard survivors' stories.

"Between the 195 mph wind and the wall of water that came in, almost every square inch of the entire city was affected," Anfuso said.

"Most of the people were told there would be a storm surge, but they were not told what that meant," he said. "They had 50 or 60 soldiers stationed down at the waterfront to rescue people, and they were just washed away."

Parents who wanted their children to be in a secure building, sheltered from the typhoon's winds, took them to a school: "They all were lost to flooding," Anfuso said.

Mostly, the trip was a chance to connect with prospective partners who can organize community relief projects.

The visit illustrates how Forward Edge -- which marks its 30th anniversary this year -- does business in faraway places: They know people who know people.

"Our approach is to identify local people who are reaching out already. Pastors here in the States, who'd been working with the Philippines for 20 years, they connected us with folks over there," Anfuso said.

"We come alongside of them and provide resources. We don't want to come in from the outside and do what they're already doing."

If things follow established form, those will be long-term connections. Forward Edge's objective is helping people over the long haul.

"Our focus is after the first responders" finish their life-saving missions, he said. "When that's all over, tens of thousands of people trying put their lives together."

That approach is why Jeff Thompson has spent long stretches in previous disaster zones.

"I lived in the Gulf Coast for three years in Mississippi and New Orleans," said Thompson, a community development specialist.

Forward Edge is still sending teams to New Orleans to help people recovering from Hurricane Katrina.

"We're still in Haiti," the Vancouver resident added, almost four years after the catastrophic earthquake.

In addition to raising money for typhoon relief, Forward Edge International will be assembling volunteers to do recovery work. One team is slated to leave in February; Anfuso hopes another team — including health care workers -- can be organized even more quickly, in January.

"One thing that's encouraging, they were already responding," Anfuso said, referring to the agency's Filipino partners. "They'd be there with us or without us. We can increase their capacity."