"I have discovered that my existence is not my own to keep but for the good of others."
What were you doing in the Philippines with All Hands Volunteers?
I was the International Disaster Response Communications Manager and the organisation's multimedia producer. My job varies according to every disaster recovery project.
After Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013, I was immediately deployed as part of the assessment team to obtain case studies and identify the immediate needs of the communities affected. This means doing walkthroughs of different districts (locally known as barangays) and speaking with barangay captains and officials. Following which, I will obtain infrastructure information and find out how best to provide relief in the most effective way. After a disaster of this scale, most roads will become inaccessible. Henceforth, I am responsible for all forms of communications, external and internal.
I explain to people what happened, and how and who they can help.
How did you get started volunteering in the Philippines, and what were you doing before this?
I started as a full-fledged volunteer in 2011 in Japan after the Tsunami.
Prior to that, majority of my professional life was dedicated to media. Entertainment journalism to be exact. Most assumptions of it are true. Life, for a short period, was filled with red carpets, events and exclusive parties. I will not say I had an epiphany one fine day but I did come from a rather broken home and this allowed me the perspective that I have today. I did not want my life to be about what it was and knew that something had to be bigger than this. I started googling hard for ways and an organisation that was willing to receive unskilled labour after the devastation. Enter All Hands Volunteers.
What made you stay on to help?
After my stint in Ofunato, Japan (a small town north of Tokyo), I returned home without any expectations. Two weeks later, the Associate Director reached out to me and asked if I could take on a communications role with the organisation. At that moment, my understanding of emergency response was still limited and I didn't understand the capacity of that position. But I knew it was a good opportunity to learn. Progressively, I understood more and more how different classes of living have different levels of concern but the same state of desperation.
Being a Singaporean, I never had to face issues of a "third world", nor did I have a full understanding of what it meant. To this day, I stayed in this industry purely because my lifelong goal of earning a million dollars kept changing over the course of time and have discovered that my existence is not my own to keep but for the good of others.
Were you volunteering in another capacity before this?
Prior to emergency response, I have volunteered in the grassroots capacity. Simple acts of cleaning old people's homes and providing labour help to move stuff around.
If anyone is interested in helping out the disaster survivors, what are the channels they can do so?
If you are interested in helping out the survivors, you can do what I did and visit www.hands.org. There are usually very few organisations out there that are willing to take in unskilled volunteers but this organisation trains you. But a donation to your charity of choice is honestly the best way to help.
NGOs do not have profits or a business model, but what we do have are amazing donors committed to a cause. Just in Tacloban alone, the major need for shelter, schools and jobs remain. Different organisations deal with different issues. It does not matter whether you're donating $5 or $5000, do your research and donate to an organisation that is meeting the area of need of your choice.
Egan is now back in Singapore working for Save the Children, an international non-governmental organization that promotes children's rights, provides relief and helps support children in developing countries.