Squamish resident Ian MacKay won’t be roasting chestnuts on an open fire or hanging his stocking over the chimney with care.
Instead, MacKay will get to experience the holiday season in an entirely different way — helping out the thousands impacted by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in any way he can.
Squamish residents might remember MacKay from his presentation at the recent TEDxSquamish event in November or his other humanitarian efforts in places like Haiti and the Congo.
The third-year nursing student at Douglas College said it was through a connection when he helped out in Haiti that the Philippines opportunity came about.
“I knew they needed help over the Christmas break, so I pitched myself to the same medical director who I worked with in Haiti after the earthquake there and I jumped on the opportunity,” he said.
MacKay said he has several friends who are helping out in the country at the moment and that the storm really rocked the southeast Asian country.
“One thing I’ve found is that people gauge disasters on death tolls and if they’re not way up, then people’s interests sometimes aren’t spiked,” he said, noting that the Philippines death toll is at about 6,000. “A country like the Philippines is a bit more prepared and advanced than a place like Haiti, but talking to friends of mine that are there, the devastation to the country is right up there with Haiti.”
He said there is a huge potential of water-borne illnesses and that the country was truly hit hard. MacKay said humanitarianism is in his blood and he has no qualms about heading to the disaster-ravaged area.
“It’s tough to explain to people why I want to go, but it’s who I am,” he said. “It’s in my makeup. My uncle has already been to the Philippines for two weeks working as a doctor and my mom, who is a nurse, did work in Africa. It’s just who I am.”
MacKay said he doesn’t have a specific role, nor does he expect to have one. He said he’s willing to do whatever is asked of him.
“The reality is, when you’re working with disaster response, no one really knows what’s happening next,” he said. “There are always a lot of unknowns but that’s the reality of disaster response. You go there not knowing what to expect and whatever you get thrown at you, you just have to work with it. I don’t go there thinking I’m going to do one role; I’m open to whatever they throw at me. I’m going there to help.”
He was scheduled to arrive in Tacloban on Tuesday (Dec. 17) and return to Canada on Jan. 6. MacKay said it’s important to allow locals the chance to have a big hand in the recovery process.
“It sounds like it’s more of a transitional role for us over there,” he said. “They have their own nurses and doctors and they’re a fairly well-off country so we should use their people because we’re only there short-term and they are there long-term. They will be the ones left to rebuild the country. We have to work on helping to empower them to help themselves and it gives them some national pride as well.”
MacKay said he will jump right back into the thick of things at school when he returns, but he hopes to have a speaking engagement in Squamish to share his experiences when he comes back.