Thursday, October 29, 2009

Volunteer says Samoans helped with tsunami relief

Villages were decimated, dozens killed and life dramatically, horribly changed for the people of Samoa and American Samoa.

It could have been a time of emotional devastation for the locals, a time of anger and grief over the loss, but instead, a Utah volunteer who went there to help described it as a great demonstration of generosity.

"The people are overwhelming," said Utah Red Cross volunteer Stan Rosenzweig.

"Their village was almost totally destroyed … they were terribly beat up, but that was the first thing to come out — their people wanted to help us help others."

Rosenzweig returned to his Salt Lake home this past weekend as part of a contingent of local Red Cross volunteers who put their own lives on hold to help the countries ravaged by an 8.0-magnitude earthquake in September that was followed by tsunami waves.

The group spent three weeks there and in just the first couple of days helped put up 1,600 yurt-style tents to provide the victims with temporary shelter.

They also brought along a bevy of food, including 20-pound bags of rice, tuna fish, noodles, milk and basic daily supplies such as diapers, towels, and sheets.

The volunteers worked side by side with villagers to attempt to restore some sense of normalcy.

Amid the 14-hour days, sleeping on cots and enduring the hot temperatures and relentless mosquitoes, Rosenzweig said he was struck most by the humble generosity of the villagers.

"They were in a tremendous amount of pain — they had loved ones killed, but they wanted most to help the people next to them … They are enormously wonderful people with good hearts."

Rosenzweig said he was inspired to become a Red Cross volunteer after Hurricane Katrina.

"I wanted to help — it got me into action."

He and his Red Cross colleagues meet each month to map out response strategies and train for emergencies, having seen firsthand that being prepared can help break or make a community when it comes to wide-scale disasters.

The spirit of the Red Cross, too, is what drives him, adding that it is a "pay it forward" philosophy.

"We know when the 7.6 earthquake comes to the Wasatch Front, our brothers and sisters in the Red Cross will be there for us."

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