An interview with humedica coordinator Margret Müller

by Lina Koch, Margret Müller,  2014/02/20

For observers, the typhoon catastrophe on the Philippian islands Leyte and Samar seems to have happened a long time ago. The world has continued revolving, new headlines have caught the public interest and other humanitarian deficiencies have come to the fore. Life goes on, but for the victims on the Philippines nothing has remained the same.

Let’s have a look back on the time after the catastrophe. Read about how humedica team members on-site have experienced their time in the badly hit city Tacloban, how the current situation of the people there turns out to be and which help measures are being planned by humedica for the next one hundred days.

In the last part of this review, Margret Müller offered us interesting insights into the first days after the catastrophe. Together with five other humedica team members, the 30-year-old arrived in the concerned region shortly after the super typhoon. One hundred days after “Haiyan”, in an interview, she looks back at her disaster relief work and explains why her heart has fear of flying:

Dear Margret, why did you decide to fly to the Philippines as part of a humedica field team?

I had read about the storm already some days before he hit the Philippines. Often he had been forecast in superlatives, which sometimes proved to be true. So when humedica asked me if I could fly within some hours’ time, I checked if I could postpone all my appointments of the following two weeks. After that, I immediately agreed to fly. I had already taken my fundamental decision of participating in disaster operations some time before.

After only a few hours of planning you went on board the plane for the Philippines with five other operation team members. How did you prepare yourselves for what was lying before you during the flight?

By making the effort to sleep in the plane – which didn’t work for me. The trip to the Philippines lasted about forty hours and it was very clear that, soon, sleep would be something rare for us. Besides that, all team members got to know each other, which is always kind of strange in the plane.

We didn’t have much information about the situation in the city Tacloban, as the region was very difficult to reach, physically as well as by telephone, because of the damages.

Despite the long journey, you were the first international medical relief team in Tacloban. How did you manage to arrive there so fast, despite the destroyed infrastructure?

Well, we left Germany shortly after the catastrophe had become known on Friday. On Sunday, for twelve hours at the responsible administrations in Manila, we fought so insistently for being transported by one of the two daily military planes to Tacloban, that they probably only wanted to get rid of us. They might have known that we wouldn’t give up, unless we were in Tacloban.

So we tried everything to get on a night flight, in order to be able to care for the first people on Monday morning. At two o’clock in the morning, it was decided that we could take this plane and we went directly from the ministry to the military airport. Thus, we reached Tacloban exactly three days after the typhoon.

What were your first impressions at your arrival in the catastrophe region and how did you organize yourselves in the beginning?

The atmosphere was apocalyptic. Already in the plane. All passengers were standing around the piles of luggage and relief items in the cargo hold of the plane. Next to me there were some women, packed with water and medicine, who wanted to search their relatives. They hadn’t received any signs of life for days. “We have to be strong now”, was what we heard several times.

Already from the plane we could see some of the destruction and also slowly moving human masses between the city in ruins and the airport. The airport building itself was nothing more than a carcass. Everywhere there was an incredibly putrid smell of decay. Despite the many people in this place, there was an eerie silence. There hasn’t been any air bridge yet, no start of humanitarian relief measures.

It was clear to us, that there were no cars, no water, no electricity or anything else in Tacloban. So where should we start? And how? A Captain of the Philippian army came right towards us: “The Germans! I have been waiting for you!” With a helicopter he flew us directly into the center of the city where we could immediately start our work.

At that time, these 10 minutes way by air took a whole day on foot. The Captain appeared to be a very valuable person for us who could make possible what would have seemed to be impossible to us.

In the afternoon, a woman who absolutely wanted to offer accommodation to a help organization found us and invited us to sleep in her intact house. She was our angel for the time we stayed in Tacloban – her house the oasis for the next day. On the second day, we went to a reception camp, where hundreds of people died.

On our way we saw the extend of the damage and of the suffering. Heaps of dead bodies and of debris, completely apathetic people sitting alongside the street, children washing themselves in the dirt. The complete destruction was omnipresent. Nothing was sound. Nothing. It was a very special situation, but our team was great. That counts!

Has there been some kind of routine during this time, despite the catastrophic circumstances?

Yes, our three meals consisted of crackers. No, seriously, in principle there were some routines: We got up not later than six; the medical staff worked either at the “Mother of Mercy” hospital or at places which hadn’t obtained any medical care yet; the coordinators organized thousands of big or small things on-site or on the road and cursed the telephones because of the bad network and shortly before the night fell we all went back to our accommodation.

In the evening there still were several things to talk about and to organize and later, we often sat together and took our time to digest our experiences.

In the detail, however, the activities changed every day. So many things were still unclear and we spent much time with elementary things like organizing water, food, electricity or petrol. Moreover, again and again we were wondering where and how we from humedica could help best.

How do you feel now that you have come back from this mission? Are you being haunted by what you experienced?

I think my heart has fear of flying. Sometimes, it takes the road, that is why I often must wait some time before I feel that I have arrived at a place at least. So, at home, it took some time for me to reorientate myself to the Western standards, not to have a bad conscience when I ate much or to look at the normal things in our everyday life without comparing them.

As long as this doesn’t become some kind of self-flagellation I don’t think that this change in attitude is bad. Besides the change of perspective I also took the smell home and I often wondered how certain persons are doing now – especially at Christmas.

Looking back, would you still take the decision of participating in this disaster operation?

Of course, I would. Immediately.

Thank you very much for these interesting insights. We wish you all the best for the future and are looking forward to your next operation with humedica.

Dear friends and sponsors. The first one hundred days after the typhoon catastrophe have passed – but humedica’s help measures haven’t been finished for a long time yet. After the urgent medical care for the injured persons, humedica is now concentrating on the long-time support of the victims.

Please become part of this help, too and take over a family sponsorship on the Philippines. Also a directed donation will find its way to the people who need it most. Thank you very much!

      humedica e. V.
      Reference “Typhoon Philippines”
      Account 47 47
      Bank Code 734 500 00
      Sparkasse Kaufbeuren

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