Pepito Biclar is a local paramedic from the Philippines heading back home with global medic to help with hurricane relief efforts on Nov. 14, 2013.
Credits: CRAIG ROBERTSON/QMI AGENCY
TORONTO - Disaster and death are calling Toronto paramedic Pepito Biclar home to the Philippines.
Having witnessed from afar the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan, Biclar hopes his knowledge of Filipino culture and geography will prove a vital asset, when he and a GlobalMedic response team from Toronto land in his ravaged homeland Sunday.
GlobalMedic volunteers, from the medical and emergency services fields, will be providing of thousands of displaced families with first aid and life-sustaining drinking water.
“I feel I can contribute the most because I know the community and medical community,” Biclar told the Toronto Sun before deploying Friday to his birthplace of Iloilo. “I’ll be there for logistical reasons as our link with the local medical community.
“Knowing the language, culture and area, I feel I can be an asset to get the mission accomplished,” Biclar said
GlobalMedic has also equipped several partner agencies in the disaster area with water purification equipment.
Haiyan slammed coastal areas in the province of Leyte, 650 kilometres south of Manila, on Nov. 8. It has been described as the strongest storm to hit land this year.
As recovery efforts continue, the death toll is estimated at 5,000. Relief agencies estimate 920,000 people have been displaced and the number of people missing is in the range of 22,000.
Biclar has had limited contact with his family back home but has learned they were not injured and have taken in other families in need.
“There are eight to 10 families who came down from the hills and are living in my brother’s living room, which was not damaged,” he said.
In the last days before deployment, Biclar spent his time driving his wife to medical appointments for bronchitis and celebrating his 12-year-old son’s birthday.
“My family has been very supportive and we have help from our community while I am gone. I’m excited, but I don’t know what to expect,’ Biclar said. “I have a personnel connection to this.”
Another GlobalMedic member with a connection to the area is Toronto fire captain Jack Turner, who has visited the Philippines several times with his Filipino partner; she’s from the region where the devastation occurred. It will be Turner’s first mission.
“I think the best part is I only had two days to get ready,” said the 26-year firefighter. “The longer you have to think, it’s ‘Oh my God.’ This way you get over quick and have an impact fast.
“The main thing is to bring hope and assistance, infrastructure assistance and get lives back together so they don’t lose hope and fall into an even worse situation,” said Turner, a volunteer with the GlobalFire arm of the charity. He will work at a distribution site just south of the epicentre for three weeks.
Turner knows what shantytowns in the disaster area are like and said there wasn’t a chance they could stand up to such a storm.
“In the poor parts, it wouldn’t take too much to rip it all apart,” he said. “These people are resilient and tough. You can’t keep them down and to help them will be an honour.
“This work is up our alley. For paramedics, police and firefighters, this will be just like another day going to work,” he added.
Turner is no stranger to disaster, having responded in 1995 to the deadly TTC subway crash at Russell Hill station, where one train rear-ended another. He and his colleagues worked for hours to free a man trapped in the carnage with his deceased wife.
“(In the Philippines) I am expecting and anticipating the worst, but I want to help them get through it,” Turner said.
Biclar and Turner are just two examples of first responders and medical professionals volunteering to help, said GlobalMedic executive director Rahul Singh, a Toronto paramedic.
“The situation on the ground is dire, said Singh. “We are in a race against time to stave off disease and keep people alive. If we fail to deliver, the suffering will be unimaginable.”
GlobalMedic will be providing more than one million water purification tablets, four portable water purification units and $60,000 worth of essential medicines.
Donations to GlobalMedic can be made at www.globalmedic.ca/donate-now and will be matched by the Canadian Federal Government.