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After a devastating tropical storm, he dropped everything to return to work with the Red Cross

When a devastating tropical storm swept villages out to sea and killed hundreds of people in his Philippine city, Al Madale just knew he needed to return to Red Cross.

Al quit his beloved career as a nursing professor at a Mindanao island college, and rejoined the Philippine Red Cross after Tropical Storm Washi (known as Sendong locally) killed about 2,500 people across Mindanao island in 2011.

“When (the storm) hit my city, that was it. I said I’m going to resign...I’m going to stop teaching which is my first love, and I’m going back to doing what I did when I was young...and become a Red Cross volunteer and staff.”

As a teenager, Al had joined the Philippine Red Cross Youth program, where he learned basic first aid and other skills that sparked his interest in nursing. Years later, he rejoined the Iligan City chapter to help Red Cross recovery efforts in the wake of Washi. The storm, which made landfall over Mindanao, caused flash flooding and damage that left thousands of people homeless.

Al Madale just knew he needed to return to Red Cross“At the time, I was very passionate about teaching. Joining Red Cross meant a big change in my career,” he recalled recently. But “the feeling of becoming part of the Red Cross movement is something that keeps me going every day. It’s one of the reasons why I wake up every day; one of the reasons I still pursue my dreams.”

Now, Al's life seems to be coming full circle again, prompted by another disaster. In 2013, Super Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines. The most powerful storm to ever make landfall, Haiyan devastated large swaths of the county and affected more than 16 million people.

Canadian, Japanese, Finnish and Norwegian Red Cross societies sent their emergency field hospitals and personnel to hard-hit regions. Canada deployed a 70-bed surgical field hospital to Ormoc where the district hospital was severely damaged. Months later, the Canadian Red Cross and the other Red Cross National Societies offered to donate their field hospital equipment to the Philippine Red Cross.

Previously, the Philippine Red Cross had been focused on community health initiatives, and did not have field hospitals to deploy for emergencies and disasters. The Canadian Red Cross offered to fund and support an Emergency Field Hospital Readiness Project to help the Philippine Red Cross ensure it was well-prepared to operate the donated hospitals.

As national field representative for the Philippine Red Cross’ health services department, Al was given responsibility for the Field Hospital Readiness project. In 2014, he attended his first emergency field hospital training offered by the Japanese Red Cross, and in 2015, he was trained by the Canadian Red Cross to train others in the Philippines. Since then, Madale has travelled to Canada and Singapore to gather more knowledge.
Al Madale volunteering with the Red Cross

But he realized life had come full circle again when he was invited to Nepal in early 2018 to share the Philippine Red Cross’ recent experiences with field hospitals. As a co-facilitator at a Nepal Red Cross training session, he helped teach participants there how to deploy emergency health clinics in Nepal.

“I was very happy and excited because the Philippine Red Cross had the opportunity to share what we have learned especially with the Emergency Field Hospital Readiness project and our different deployments.”

When he returned to Red Cross in 2011, Al says he didn’t realize “the number of doors and opportunities that would open” for him.

“I never thought that I could still find nursing here at the Philippine Red Cross, but it is very much related to nursing in emergencies and disasters. This is the coming together of my dreams and what I always wanted to do.”

Al is asked to describe a touching moment from the field: “There are so many instances, so many memories, so many situations that really made me cry.” 

He describes an experience when he was managing youth leaders collecting donations for a typhoon response. A boy, living on the streets, got the attention of a youth volunteer who explained they were collecting for typhoon survivors. The boy went away and came back to donate two pesos:  “I cannot forget that moment because if you’re really true to what you’re doing for humanity, it doesn’t matter who you are. It doesn’t matter if you’ve attended a college. You don’t need to be an expert.  What you need is just to have a heart. Even with that kid, I’m sure he had a hard time begging for that money, but he understood why we were there.  That made me feel: Okay I have purpose at Philippine Red Cross. And that is to spread the message of hope for humanity. Oh, I told you that you were going to make me cry!”
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