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Mike joined 8,000 Nepal Red Cross Society staff and volunteers, and international colleagues from places like Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, China, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Indonesia, Japan, the Maldives, Myanmar, Norway, the Philippines, Qatar, Singapore, Sri Lanka, South Korea, Switzerland, Thailand and Timor-Leste.
Everyone is focussed on making sure 700,000 people in the 14 worst-hit districts receive emergency food and water, tarpaulins, tools for building shelters, blankets, kitchen equipment like pots and plates, and hygiene kits with soap and water purification tablets.
It would be a big task after any double disaster that affected 5.6 million people and destroyed more than 500,000 houses. Add months of monsoon downpours that sweep earthquake-loosened soil across roads that are treacherous at the best of times.
Good information is crucial so people get the help they need. That’s Mike’s job. Back home he’s a project manager for electricity and gas distributor Powerco, covering Taranaki, Whanganui, Manawatu and Wairarapa. In Nepal he’s the leader of the IT and telecommunications team, a mix of Kiwi, American and Austrian techy fix-it people who know their way around a laptop, satellite phone, wifi connection and soldering iron.
He brings a particularly kiwi touch – a box of chocolate fish that sweeten interactions with the Red Cross team. Mike’s biggest satisfaction comes from setting things up in an emergency that will make a lasting difference.
“I look at the options and then make the right decision that I know is going to make a difference, a decision that’s going to be effective and efficient. Something people can use after we’ve gone. It’s that transfer of knowledge.
“Everyone’s here for the same reason. People involved in the operation don’t sit back and wait to be told what to do. Everyone wants to make a difference.”
Getting involved when people are in need is a no-brainer to Mike, who is also regional instructor for Coastguard New Zealand.
“Why do I do it? Because it’s the right thing to do. Because I can. I like making a difference and helping people.”
Mike, who used to be a hydrologist with NIWA, joined the Red Cross 12 years ago after hearing about its emergency response work. Since then he’s worked with the Red Cross in the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan, in Papua New Guinea after king tides and floods, in Tonga training people in communications and GPS, in Samoa to help with cyclone preparedness and IT infrastructure, and in Malaysia to train in logistics. Back home in New Zealand, he ended up running the New Zealand Red Cross base camp after the Canterbury earthquake, with 130 volunteers. That was a 24-hour a day task.
“I like the fact Red Cross is an international organisation. I see it as a big family, with 189 countries from all over the world. You can be walking down a hallway and you see someone wearing the red cross or red crescent emblem and you know them, even if you’ve never met before.
“We’re a big organisation but our focus is to do the right thing for the people who need it.”