By Kathy Bryson
As March flights through Japan were shutting down and Coronavirus numbers were jumping up, Early Response Team (ERT) volunteers in Saipan were torn what to do. They had started their two-week rebuild mission and knew there was work to be done. After months of planning their trip, team members made the hard decision to leave.
Super Typhoon Yutu struck Saipan and nearby Tinian with catastrophic force in October 2018 leaving thousands of people homeless. The first United Methodist volunteer teams began arriving in March 2019 under FEMA’s “Voluntary Agencies Leading and Organizing Repair (VALOR) program. They came in groups of seven to ten people from across the U.S. and, in most cases, met each other for the first time upon landing at the airport in Saipan.
The work was hard but the experience was rewarding. Team members shared small apartments at the Aquarius Beach Resort, accommodations that were partially damaged but still functional. Each day they would load up tools, coolers and lots of water before heading to homes assigned by FEMA coordinators. In the high heat, extreme humidity, and monsoon-like rains, these skilled and determined volunteers rebuilt roofs, replaced doors and windows, ran electrical wires and replaced plumbing fixtures. They got to know the families, eat at local restaurants and learn about the culture and beauty of Saipan and its people.
Since March, FEMA has ended the Saipan VALOR volunteer program.
Over the last year, 18 volunteers from the Pacific Northwest Conference served in Saipan contributing 1,650 hours of volunteer labor. This work was a significant portion of the FEMA VALOR program which resulted in the repair and habitability of hundreds of damaged homes.
Generous donations from the 2019 Pacific Northwest Annual Conference helped fund tools and supplies for the teams and their rebuild efforts.
Kathy Bryson serves as Disaster Response Co-Coordinator for the Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Methodist Church.