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GoAbroad.com leads aid mission from its Tacloban HQ

A US study abroad company with offices in Tacloban, the Philippines, is coordinating direct on-the-ground relief in the wake of the strongest tropical cyclone ever to make landfall, Typhoon Haiyan. GoAbroad.com has offices in Tacloban and wife of founder and CEO, Troy Peden, is from the region.

Typhoon Haiyan hit the HQ of GoAbroad.com - only 3 of 80+ staff are unaccounted for

"The community centre was completed in August and provided shelter for the entire village during the typhoon"

Peden and his family were in the city when the storm hit; at the time of writing, only 3 of his 80-strong local team were unaccounted for.

“I am afraid of trivialising [the typhoon] by describing it,” Peden told The PIE News. “Team Rubicon, a relief group of war veterans from the US and the UK, said it was worse than their Iraq and Afghan experiences. Some places like San Jose were hit directly by the wind followed by 20-foot waves from both sides. Five days later the bodies are still there. It is very bad.”

Peden and GoAbroad.com staff have amazing stories of how the company has helped save lives, such as team member Elsa Thomasma, who “single-handedly” built a community centre in the village of Cangumbang.

Kayla Patterson, coordinating the relief effort from GoAbroad.com’s US HQ, explained, “The community centre was completed in August and provided shelter for the entire village during the typhoon. In fact, it is the only thing left standing in the village and likely the reason they had no fatalities.”

Meanwhile, the concrete HQ in Tacloban is being used as a base by international media and many local families.

“On the first night we had about 70 people staying at our office including a nursery,” said Peden, who is driving people out of the immediate vicinity and bringing back rice, canned fish and medical supplies. “We are very grateful NBC and ITV have based at our office,” he said. “Aside from being pleasant guys they have contributed supplies and we are safer with their presence.”

Donations to the non-profit initiative will go directly to on-the-ground relief efforts

Donations to the non-profit initiative will go directly to on-the-ground relief efforts

However, Peden urged people to not judge the situation by news footage of looting. “That has happened but there are so many more stories of Filipino generosity here,” he said. “Filipinos are the most resilient and patient people in the world, they also value family above all else, so Tacloban will rise again.”

In the short-term, however, access to food and shelter is a priority for a region where Peden says they are expecting to be without electricity for 2 to 6 months and there are many pressing medical needs.

Readers can contribute directly to Volunteer for the Visayans, a non-profit foundation run by GoAbroad.com. “We will do immediate relief for our communities and then in the coming weeks we will begin the second phase of aid including housing support, schooling etc,” said Peden.

Patterson elaborated, “Moving forward, when the infrastructure in Tacloban is more advanced and we can better assess where funds need to be allocated, they will go toward rebuilding the homes of our staff and their families, providing clothing, food, water, and other necessities, as well as supporting many of the housing and nutrition projects in and around Tacloban.”

“We have moments of elation mixed with reality”

Peden said that in the coming months, international education volunteers would be able to make a difference, given that so many schools were destroyed. “I would encourage motivated and well intentioned volunteers to wait for a couple weeks before coming over unless you have medical skills,” he counselled.

This is a reminder of the immediate physical trauma and displacement on the ground. Peden recounted, “The fact that [staff] are almost all accounted for is beyond gratifying. After several attempts we reached a hard hit village where we had heard a rumour that one of our staff had not made it. When we saw her alive and heard her story of survival it was unimaginable.”

He continued, “Many of our colleagues have stories of unbelievable survival. At the same time they were finishing a mass grave in the plaza in front of her house and medical teams were conducting amputations and emergency surgeries next door. So we have moments of elation mixed with reality.”

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