Typhoon Souledor’s devastating impact on Saipan was felt across the Pacific all the way to the State of Hawaii. Dozens of residents who dwell in the Aloha State with roots and a solid connection to the CNMI and Guam sprung into action. Seeing the photos, going online to witness the damage and talking to family and friends about the destruction made them yearn to find a way to help as soon as possible. Although they were now firmly ensconced in Hawaii, their minds and hearts always remained with their family, friends, and loved ones back home.
Locally on Saipan, Tan Holdings manager and Pacific Century Fellow Ed Arriola’s outstanding and noble efforts to transport a container from Guam filled with materials and items that were immediately put to use, especially by those who lost their homes, led to L.J. Duenas, who is the associate director of the American Diabetes Association in Hawaii, to contact Matson Navigation for help and support to launch a similar endeavor from Hawaii. It had to help that Vic Angoco Sr., vice president at Matson, has strong ties to Guam because the shipping company had no qualms in providing a 40-foot container.
Securing the container and firming up other logistical support such as Pacific Transfer to provide the local transportation and the Safeway Stores Pali location to provide the site for the donated items to be collected was only one half of the challenge. In many ways now, the greater challenge was to make sure that the people of Hawaii would respond accordingly and effectively. To ensure a successful grassroots effort amongst the Saipan expats to help push the initiative, groups with family relationships all throughout the Marianas region were activated, such as Tao Tao Marianas in Hawaii, Sons of Saipan, and the Hafadai Club. I invited representatives of a couple of the organizations on one of my radio programs KNDI 1270 AM that has a large Filipino following for an extensive interview, promoted the relief effort heavily on my other radio gig on 107.9 Kool Gold, and wrote about the Saipan relief drive in my “Island Matters” column in the widely read MidWeek publication that is delivered weekly to every household and many businesses on Oahu.
To their credit, several individuals all from Saipan jumped into the fray 100 percent. Frances Moses convened a meeting to issue a call for action. From that meeting, Joe Lifoifoi and Jay Aldan, from the CNMI Medical Referral Office, former Miss CNMI Universe Belvilyn Fleming, Chris Hendricks, Carina Train, Dion Mesta, Frank Palacios, Lane Santos, and Christina and Benedict Lizama, along with L.J. Duenas all stepped up big time to take on major responsibilities and recruiting other individuals to support this worthy cause. Whatever it took to get the job done, they were committed despite their professional and family responsibilities to make all the necessary sacrifices to ensure a successful outcome for their three-day drive. And, of course, the “coconut wireless” network of tons of phone calls and social media inundated with constant messages encouraging and requesting support was operating round the clock. Even Rep. Angel Demapan, who went to college in Hawaii, was Facebooking his friends from Saipan to get involved. In fact, the hardworking legislator may not reside in Honolulu anymore but he still has his network there because he maintains his membership in Tao Tao Marianas in Hawaii.
I was so impressed with the energy and passion that the Saipan expats were exuding that I appealed to the organization that I head, the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association, for kokua (Hawaiian for “help”) and they responded magnificently with linens, pillows, clothing, shoes, toiletries and hygiene items from member businesses like the Waikiki Parc Hotel, Pacific Beach Hotel, Hyatt Park Place, ALSCO, and the University of Hawaii Travel Industry Management School. The Trump International Hotel on Beachwalk in Waikiki made the most spectacular contribution by donating five dozen mattresses! Said general manager Scott Ingwers, “We are humbled to have the opportunity to aid the people of Saipan. …Our culture here at Trump Waikiki mirrors that of so many of Hawaii’s people, who share their Aloha from the heart and whose priority is providing care for others.”
In terms of the overall collection, according to Duenas , clothing (both new and used) from infant to adult sizes, nonperishable food items, mosquito coils, bug spray, tents, tarps, water, and some cash donations were also part of the mix. More importantly they were able to fill the 40-foot container, which brought much hugs, elation, and tears of joy as they watched Pacific Transfer haul the giant care package away bound for Saipan. It is expected to arrive on Tuesday Sept. 7, where Empty Vessel, a nonprofit agency that services the poor, will be assisting in the distribution of the items to shelters and those in need.
With the impressive outcome and completion of this herculean task, does this signal the end of their mission to help their brothers and sisters on Saipan? “Not so,” says Duenas and his cohorts. “We are brainstorming and seeking input on what the next fundraising event should be. In the meantime all we want to do is convey our gratitude and appreciation to the hundreds of individuals and businesses who helped make our relief drive a rousing success.” In other words, they stand ready to continue to help and assist as long as Saipan is in recovery mode.
I am sure tourism and government officials in the Commonwealth are already strategizing on how to rebuild the economy post-Typhoon Souledor. Hawaii went through it twice with two hurricanes in 1982 and 1992 that wreaked major havoc on our islands, especially Kauai, and both times we came back quickly as a result of a strategic game plan. I was directly involved with the ’92 natural disaster called Hurricane Iniki, which remains the most powerful hurricane to ever hit Hawaii with winds up to 145 miles per hour and caused nearly $2 billion of damage and resulted in half a dozen people dying.
The Hawaii state government led by then-governor John Waihee worked with our State Legislature, State Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT), and our marketing arm at the time, the Hawaii Visitors Bureau, to authorize a special appropriation to fund a special tourism marketing campaign to get the word out that Hawaii was open for business. A special ad campaign was launched and targeted tourism promotional campaigns to our key markets were also set in motion. For example, I went with the governor in my capacity as the director of DBEDT to Japan to appeal to them directly that we needed their help to spur our tourism recovery efforts. The Japanese responded compassionately by continuing to visit the Hawaiian islands.
Getting back on your feet and regaining the momentum prior to a natural or man-made disaster is never easy. But there’s no reason a well-thought-out strategic effort for the Commonwealth with the government, Marianas Visitors Authority, and HANMI working collaboratively in leading the way cannot engender similar results. Mufi Hannemann (Special to the Saipan Tribune)