Philippines Emergency Response Team
The team had quite a journey home: crazy flight, packed in like sardines, all standing up for over two hour flight in C-130 from Tacloban to Manila; then three hour flight to Taipei and fourteen more hours to LAX. Three members were flying on to Reno, Phoenix and Dallas. While waiting at the airport in Tacloban, one of their hosts prayed to receive Jesus!
FROM DAVID LEDWITZ:
"It's hard holding back tears after reading this a few minutes ago here at LAX. (My flight was delayed). To think she just gave her heart to Jesus yesterday in Tacloban and God has shown her His love for her by protecting her in the airport and keeping fear out of her heart."
FROM NEW BELIEVER:
How are you David? Hope your doing fine.. It was the airline who called me up there was a changed of flight schedule of mine. Anyway I am here already in Pampanga with my children. So glad to see my children.
You know what? When I arrived at the NAIA Airport Terminal 3 a shooting incident happened 3 were killed and 1 wounded. I was already inside the airport when this incident happened. For the first time I felt no fear about the incident even I see many people crying there because they were so much afraid and had been running and shouting. It was then I felt so lucky and remembered what Dan shared to me, the word of God before you all left yesterday. David, all of you are gift from God to me and to my children. I will never ever forget you all. Hope to see you again David. I will miss all of you especially you.
Keeping in touch with you..
Each team member said the mission was great! Jim Haney said, "We saw God move, move, move!" One story he shared was about a Tacloban firefighter who prayed to receive Jesus after reading his Firefighters For Christ business card. Hopefully, more stories will be forthcoming! Thanks so very much for all your prayer support. It was a very challenging trip but as always God accomplishes His purposes as only He can!
Day 6, December 15, 2013
We finally arrived yesterday after a lengthy detour but trust that our detour was according to God's plan. We had originally partnered with Kids International Ministries, but The Lord has had us working with and ministering to firefighters. They treated us just short of royalty in Manila, arranged for our transportation via a C-130, and were here in Tacloban ready to pick us up when we arrived. We met with Bill, the head of KIM's operation in Tacloban, after we arrived and he had planned on hooking us up with the local fire department anyways...so we are staying here at the main fire station in Tacloban. Our first day here, the 'chief' gave us a tour of the city, pointed out significant life-loss sites, and talked about work in progress and how we might assist his guys.
It was VERY HOT when we arrived, but we had a heavy rain last night and a torrential downpour this afternoon, so it has cooled off a bit. It's still very warm and humid at night, so it takes me a bit to get to sleep, even though tired.
Today (Sunday), body retrieval teams have the day off. We will be helping them but this is their first day off since they started. We went out to see a damaged fire station in San Jose, a community in Tacloban, and cleaned it up a bit. We also gave the 'capt' a water filtration kit for his family. They live in a house behind the station and have quite a survival story to tell. We returned to the main station for lunch and David stayed there because he was overcome with heat and spent the afternoon rehydrating and cooling down.
We then went to help out at a memorial service carrying body bags into a mass grave burial site at a cemetery. (This is when we had the torrential downpour.) Not something we really wanted to do, but if we are able to shoulder some of the workload of these guys, we'll do it.
We then went to do a body retrieval at a difficult site, attempted by the BFP guys earlier, but without success as they lacked some needed tools. It was under a very large ship (looked like maybe a 300' car ferry) which had washed ashore with the storm surge.
So it looks like more body retrievals tomorrow. Again, not really what I'd like to do, but if it provides some relief for the BFP guys, then it's our ministry to them.
Day 3, Thursday, December 12, 2013
The LORD has made divine appointments for Firefighters For Christ's Team to minister to Filipino firefighters as they wait for their relief destination flight to Tacloban. "We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps." Proverbs 16:9
Today began at 4:30 a.m. for me as I needed to complete the previous day's writing. It was truly a blessing to stay in a hotel and have a good night's rest and a shower. Everyone gathered in Luis and my room for morning devotion before our drivers from the BFP came to pick us up. For clarification we are in Quezon City which is part of metro Manila, similar to what one would think of larger metropolitan areas back in the states.
When we arrived at the BFP, the recruits and several officers and staff were present and ready to have their morning devotion. Dan spoke about who Jesus is and what it means to live your life for Jesus and being a Firefighter For Christ. He covered a number of verses and about accepting Jesus into your heart and not being ashamed to publicly declare that you live for Jesus. Afterwards several of the recruits walked up to him and Luis with questions. It appears they may have been hesitant to ask in front of their peers. Several also asked about starting a Firefighters For Christ chapter here.
Afterwards we went upstairs for breakfast and one of the civilian advisors, who is also an English teacher, told us quite a bit of history regarding World War II and Bataan. Some interesting things we had not heard. We were also informed that much of the internet and cellular communication that relies on a company named "Smart" had been down for almost two days. That may explain the difficulties we have had communicating with KIM. We were informed that coordinating was still in progress to get us to Tacloban but it still appeared to be no earlier than Saturday. It's been a source of frustration, but one of discussion and prayer amongst us. It is an acceptance that God has other plans right now and it appears to be building these relationships with BFP.
Carlos and Jim were able to establish communication with John at KIM and he thought we may have still been waiting at the airport and had arranged a flight, with our baggage covered, for that morning. Unfortunately we did not know. We were able to get him the address at the BFP where we were and to get both parties to communicate on the plans to get us to Tacloban. KIM may also be not able to get us out until Saturday so it appears we will be flying a military C130 on Saturday morning, around 0530, through the office of Civil Defense. Cpt Lantion explained to us that the Friday military travel is already full.
We had lunch with the Chief and then met with the media. They spoke with Jim and asked very good questions about FFC, why we came, how we get here, etc. The reporter seemed impressed to find out that we do this on our own expense.
During lunch the Chief explained that Saturday was Fire Recognition Day, basically similar to our Fire Prevention Week in the U.S. but it started as a result of a fuel depot fire in 1972 (I believe I have the year correct) at the Rockwell Fuel Depot. Four firefighters died. There is also a painting an artist did of that event and the 9-11 event. The Chief instructed the staff to bring all of the recruits on that floor into the room and he discussed the history of that day, proper training and keeping up with the changes in the Fire Service and knowing more than just firefighting but things such as building construction, etc. He explained that when those four firefighters died, they were only identified by their belt buckles and that is why the history of their belt buckles with their names on them evolved. He shared about the 9-11 event and how the firefighters made their way up the stairs and how one knew the buildings so well and knew which elevators he could use to quickly get above the 40th floor before the collapse. I hope the recruits realized how significant it was to have their Chief present this information to them in the manner in which he did. Chief Romero is very knowledgeable.
After that we went downstairs and changed into our work clothes and met the recruits at Quezon City Memorial Park. They are issued rope here instead of webbing for self-rescue, etc. So they were taught how to tie a water knot and make a chest harness and hasty seat. They were also taught how to do room searches with your partner using the webbing and how to remove a victim from a room. It was great to spend hands on time with the recruits teaching them methods that could save their life or others one day.
Two fire engines were also brought in. One was a brand new Man Rosenbaum. Luis conducted a demonstration of how to use a rope throw bag to bring hose sections up to another floor of a building, do a hose coil and then charge the line and advance it forward in a structure. Jim and Ron also showed the recruits how to secure the nozzle with the rope. Dan demonstrated how to make a double loop with the webbing to tie to the charged hose and elbow cradle the hose for one man to hold a charged line—basically a third hand. Then a number of the recruits got to feel it and why it is necessary to hold a firm position. Then everyone got Jude to get on the line and I showed him how the number 2 person on the hose supports the nozzle man so they can advance. He commented that it was because I was stronger than he. Truth be told, I think they increased the pressure to have fun with him and they may not run high pressures like we do because it seemed normal to me. Dan gave Jude his webbing and carabiner and you could see the appreciation of that gift. I told Luis when we are done with our time here, I would like to give them the webbing that I brought and my carabiners. Between what i bought and REI donated, I can always buy more. It was a great day of fellowship and truly something much better than we could have planned.
After the training we returned to the BFP and were updated on the flight status and had some fellowship time with everyone. We were also told not to worry about dinner or sleeping arrangements as we were being taken care of at the hotel again—truly above and beyond hospitality. Jude and Marlon took us to a restaurant that had a rather large buffet with everything imaginable. I tried many new things. There was much laughter and fellowship around the table. And of course challenges to eat more! We were taken to the hotel and told to get breakfast at the hotel in the morning.
Tomorrow's activities are planned to visit some fire stations and do some training and also attend a lunchtime Bible study with the firefighters. There is still discussion on that as the study is done in Tagalog. I know God will put us where He wants us tomorrow.
It indeed has been another blessed day with unplanned activities that have proven more fruitful and beneficial.
Posted by David
Day 2, Wednesday, December 11, 2013
I like to write in the evenings as a way to recap the day however with the events of yesterday and spotty WiFi availability, added to a very long day and late night. I am up at 4:30 a.m. Honestly, not because I want to be up this early, but because I heard and felt the nudging of The Lord to share. So please bear with me as you read this. Many things happened and it is important to share. Whenever you build something, whether it is a structure, business or relationship, you must have a firm foundation. Without a firm foundation, the "it" will fail eventually.
"You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands." Hebrews 1:10
Our day started at 4:30 a.m.. Everyone just started waking up early rather than the planned 5 a.m. So we all got ready and had our morning devotional early. It was led by Ron. He read out of Jesus Calling on the topic of patience and waiting on God's time, not ours. Several verses of scripture were shared by Ron and others. Ps 36:9, Ps 46:10, Gen 21:1, Phil. 3:1, 4:6
After the devotion we packed up our bags and ate breakfast in the dining room at the YMC. Our planned departure time for the airport was 7 a.m. to catch the 11 a.m. flight. We loaded our baggage on a pickup and in the van we rode in yesterday and drove over two hours back in traffic. When I say the traffic was horrendous, the honking, the four lanes of cars when there is only three, the smell of the exhaust and the heat...
We arrived at the airport, loaded up six carts with all of our baggage plus supplies we were to deliver for KIM to Tacloban. Jim went to obtain some travel document for us to go through security to the ticketing area. Going through security with all of the baggage itself was a test of patience. We were directed to a particular counter to check in. I was asked to go up and help document the total weight of baggage. So as Ron was loading the scale, I was recording the weights. We had over 1000 pounds. (We had 484 kilos by our count, the airline said 494) The ticket agent informed us that we were only allowed 30 pounds check-in. It was going to cost us approximately $600 per person just in excess baggage fees and she was insisting on Pesos and explained that they did not take credit or American Dollars and pointed out a Currency Exchange Bank. Of course none of us were in agreement. The agent was very curt and apathetic. The supervisor was even less "helpful" and basically stated that if we did not travel we would forfeit our tickets. The information provided of who we were and that we were here to help did not seem to matter. We asked for our baggage back, re-loaded the carts and circled and prayed.
In the middle of prayer asking God for direction, a man in a tie appeared and we discovered he was with the airline operations. He asked many questions of which Jim provided documents and answers. It was clear we had missed the only flight of the day to Tacloban. After prayer, almost jokingly, Jim said he asked for a helicopter. Dan said it was clear that we were not intended to be on that flight. We did not know why but clearly God had another plan. Ron had befriended one of the airport police officers so we walked over and asked him who possibly could help us with our dilemma. He directed us to the Civil Aeronautics Board. So he, Jim and I walked over to speak with him. We explained our situation to one of the representatives and as she started offering up some scripted information I blurted out, "What about a helicopter? Surely the Philippine National Police or the army have a helicopter." She offered to make some calls and over a period of time walked back and forth to let us know developments, etc as she had a friend over at the Air Force base. The end result was that the only C130 transport of the week through the Office of Civil Defense had already left.
In the meantime Carlos, Dan and Jim were trying to reach our KIM contact. The immediate response was apologies and that someone was sent to bring us back to the center. Clearly none of us wanted to make the two hour drive back and decided that we were staying at the airport until more information developed. I asked Ron and several others, "Who are we?" and the answer was "Firefighters For Christ." At this point several hours had gone by and we were all feeling some level of frustration. I mentioned that seeking assistance we had talked to everyone but firefighters. Earlier Luis pointed out a guy wearing a Texas A&M/TEEX Fire School shirt. I walked over and introduced myself and asked him about the shirt. A friend of his had gone and given him the shirt as a gift. I asked him if he was a firefighter and it turns out he was! He was a 16 year veteran stationed in Cebu (The firefighters are a national force in the Philippines). His name was Von. He said if we were in Cebu he could help us but that he knew no one locally to assist. I point blank asked him to please help us. He offered to call a friend in the central office. Little did we know the wheels that were set in motion.
Von was making a series of calls and in short, his friend at the "central office" (Headquarters) of the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) was a major and arrangements had been made to pick us up and take us to the headquarters where assistance could begin to get us to Tacloban. Von had let us know that the BFP could reach out to the National Risk Reduction Management Council (NRRMC). Apparently they have some oversight over the use of resources of the military, police and fire services. Von had to leave and shook my hand and I responded to him that we were brothers and hugged him.
During all of this, the in country SIM Card Carlos purchased was running out of minutes so he and Ron were going to attempt to get more minutes purchased. Unfortunately without tickets, if they exited the building, they would be denied reentry. A young man by the name of Rafael, sitting next to them, offered to assist. It turns out that he is a seaman on a merchant marine vessel and stated that every night when he gets off shift he goes to his quarters and reads the Bible. He went out and purchased the minutes needed to recharge the card. When Carlos and Ron attempted to pay him for the minutes and for his assistance, he refused. He pointedly stated, "Wouldn't you help me if I needed it in the US?" It was a very moving and true statement. Carlos was able to return phone calls to an Inspector/Lieutenant with the BFP. Jim and the inspector, Jude, and one of the Captains exchanged information and we were informed that vehicles were already on their way to pick us up and that they were stuck in traffic. When they arrived and we went outside, the first one we saw was a vehicle belonging to the Chaplain. Imagine that. Two vehicles and a bus were sent to pick us up and all of the gear. We made another two hour drive to the headquarters. That is where we met Inspector/Lieutenant Jude DeLos Reyesand Fire Officer 3 Marlon Gacis.
After we arrived at the headquarters we were asked to introduce ourselves to the new recruit class of 100 recruits. They were standing in formation. As it turns out, you must be Christian to be a firefighter here. They are taught, not only to read the Firefighter's Prayer but to be able to sing it. One of the recruits pulled out a guitar and the entire recruit class sang it to us. Powerful! None of us had ever heard it sung. Dan lead the class in prayer and then commented on how great it was to see a chapel in the headquarters and what it means to truly be a firefighter living their life for Christ.
We were taken upstairs to the 7th floor and introduced to the staff and served coffee, water and cake. We were then told that arrangements had been made for dinner to be brought in. We spent time meeting and getting acquainted with a number of the senior staff. We met Captain Luchie Lantion, who is an administrative officer who keeps information flowing and it appears that she makes many things happen. We were shown GIS mapping of the island locations and where the path of the Typhoon was.
The evening was made very special when we were introduced to the Fire Chief of the BFP. He is General Carlito Romero. We shared a meal with the Chief and he was very personable getting to know everyone's name and about us. Around the table the the laughing and smiles, it was like we had all known each other many years—truly personable and what you see in the Fire Service. When they found out we did not have a place to stay the night, they offered to let us stay on cots at the headquarters. However when it was mentioned that we would possibly be meeting with the media the next day and needed to clean up and put on our travel uniform, we were taken to a hotel to stay the night. They were very insistent that we not pay for the rooms.
Everyone was very tired and we went to sleep very quickly. It indeed has been a most blessed day and proof once again that God's plans are far more mighty than ours. He knows what He is doing and why He has us here.
Day 2, Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Prayer warriors, we NEED you. Our in country ministry made arrangements for us to fly Air Asia to Tacloban. At the ticket counter the agent was trying to tell us it was approximately $600 per person for baggage alone and cash only. A supervisor also said we have forfeited our tickets. We circled and prayed in front of the ticket area. Out of no where an airline representative appeared and started asking questions in what appears to assist us. He was given a copy of our FFC mission letter. We have missed the only flight of the day. We know The Lord has not brought us all this way to be disappointed. Please share and pray so that we may continue on to Tacloban to help the people that so desperately need and expect our team. — at NAIA Domestic Airport.
This is a copy of text and email exchanges:
My apologies for not posting a blog update last night. It is in process as it is a LOT of info. Yesterday's events turned into something more powerful than we could have imagined. We ended up at the national headquarters of the Bureau of Fire Protection, provided a meal and a hotel to sleep. Plus much more. The General asked us to lead the morning devotional with him and his staff and the new recruit class of 100! Powerful. More to follow.
God indeed had a more mighty plan than us getting on that airplane yesterday.
To team: We are praying that God will open the way, the same way that He parted the Red Sea. HIS plan is perfect. HE never makes mistakes. HE says HE will see you through. We will see HIS glory. We can praise HIM for that. Many are praying. GOD bless you our brothers!
Difficulties are the platform where GOD can show HIS power.
From team: HE is showing His power and directing our steps. We made contact with a couple other people/options while at airport. One was a firefighter from Cebu who is making some phone calls on our behalf. It looks like someone from Manila fire dept is going to pick us up and contact Civil Protection about arranging our travel to Cebu, then take a ferry to Tacloban. This would provide opportunity to minister to firefighters on our travels.
To team: Waiting on GOD is HIS perfect plan for us. HE knows what is happening in our lives each moment. We've seen it many times before. HE will not fail now and is NEVER late, not even a minute!!
From E.M. Bounds:
"Delay is often the test and the strength of faith; yet faith gathers strength by waiting and praying. Patience is learned best when waiting is required. In some instances, delay is of the very nature of prayer. God has to do many things before He gives the final answer. Things that are essential to the lasting good of the person who is requesting the favor from Him. Fear not, Jesus will come. His delay will serve to make His coming more richly blessed. Keep on praying. Keep on waiting. He will come and will not be late.
FFC's Philippines Relief Team was able to board just in time because of God's wonderful intervention. For almost two hours the team and others prayed as this airline representative worked with the Philippines government to approve one member's passport, which was due to expire in March 2014. Another member's flight was canceled because of ice. The Lord provided his transportation and flight via another airport. Fourteen pounds was the limit on carry-ons. As a four and one-half pound Bible was being taken out of a carry-on, the attendant said, "No, you may keep your Bible with you!" Call on ME and I will answer you; and show you great and mighty things. Jeremiah 33:3
Philippines Mission 2013 by David Ledwitz
Day 1, Tuesday, December 10, 2013
As part of the Firefighters For Christ Emergency Relief Team, I am in the Philippines to support emergency relief efforts due to the damage caused by Typhoon Yolanda on November 8, 2013. There are six of us here. Jim Haney, retired Santa Clara; Ron Price, retired LA City; Dan Rodriguez, LA City; Luis Carlos, LA City; Carlos Pisano, Wilderness Medics and myself. Regarding the date and time: We crossed the international date line so it is Tuesday here, as compared to Monday back home. But to clarify, all of us started our travel on Sunday, December 8th.
Our travel day began with several "challenges" but with prayer, as always, God provided. My flight (as with many, many others at DFW) was canceled in Dallas as a result of the ice storm 3 days prior. Jim's flight was delayed from Reno. Dan's passport was less than six months from expiration and our travel letter referenced our known names versus our given birth names on our passports. There was confusion in LAX regarding only being allowed to have a carryon with a maximum weight of 14 pounds so I had to go buy another bag for my large backpack and a new smaller carryon. One of the guys was removing his rather large Bible from his carryon to lighten it and the ticket agent said "no" and that it was ok to leave it in. John and Jane White and Tracy Carlos came to see us off. It was tough to accept that John would not be able to join us. He is always such a good example of a Man of God and leader.
I was able to get booked on Southwest out of Dallas Love Field due to the gracious help of some very good and well loved, church friends. My travels took me from Dallas to San Antonio to LAX, where I met up with the rest of the team. From LAX we went to Taipei, a 14 hour flight to Manila, a 2 1/2 hour flight and an approximate 2 hour wait trying to find our Manila contact and then a two hour drive in traffic to the Yunjin Lyso Ministry Center (YMC) where Kids International Ministry (KIM) is based. Every flight was delayed for one reason or another. The plan was for us to catch a flight to Tacloban today but The Lord had other plans. We are staying in one of the guest rooms at YMC and had a homemade meal. There are a number of other missionaries here as well.
This morning at the Taipei airport our morning devotion was held in the gate waiting area. Jim led it and covered the story of David and Goliath out of 1 Samuel. He mentioned how without any fancy equipment or weapons, David took on Goliath. He compared it to our situation. We are going into a disaster area with only hand tools, as compared to equipment and powerful tools. The song "Voice of Truth" by the Casting Crowns came to mind. If you don't know it, look it up and listen to it. All being in uniform, a number of people have come up to us at all locations to say "Thank You."
Tomorrow morning we will get up at 5 a.m. and get ready, have our morning devotional, breakfast and be on the road by 7 a.m. for the drive back to the airport to catch an 11 a.m. flight to Tacloban. It is an approximate two hour flight. We were told by one of the missionaries here that everyone is excited that we came and we are needed in Tacloban. What exactly we will be doing is up to The Lord to reveal to us. There has been mention of helping with construction or possibly a medical facility since we are all EMT or Paramedics. We will be staying at either a church missing a roof or a school. The living conditions will be bleak. There will be no electricity except for a few hours a day by generator. We have also brought a generator. We will be sleeping on the ground with temps in the high 80s and 90s and basically 100% humidity. No running water for showers and very little clean water to drink. We also brought water purification units, but for tonight we get to sleep on a bed with a fan. One plus though is that KIM has established WiFi at the YMC here in Manila and also in Tacloban, so hopefully I will be able to write and post daily and Dan and Jim can send updates to the FFC office for posting on the webpage, www.firefightersforchrist.org.
This is rather long, but so has been this day. I wanted to share with you one part of how we have begun this trip. It is almost 8 p.m. local time so I am going to wrap it up, clean up and head to bed for much needed sleep. Hopefully at least 8 1/2 hours tonight.
Thank you to everyone who has supported me, whether it is through prayer or financial support. You are truly a blessing to me. Peace be with you.
David said, "I wanted to share with you this picture from Christina. It's Jim's card, the Cross pin from Dan and my 'I Am Second bracelet' I gave her."
These kids are playing on debris fields covering a swampy bogland full of hazards. FFC's team retrieved three cadavers from this site today, with a couple more to get tomorrow. Please pray that the Lord will keep these boys and others safe and that they will know Jesus as their Savior!
This fire station in San Jose, a community in Tacloban, was destroyed in the typhoon. FFC's team spent the morning cleaning it. Afterwards they gave the 'captain' and his family, who live behind the station, a water filtration. Please pray for FFC's ministry in Tacloban. "Let them give glory to the LORD and proclaim HIS praise in the islands." Isaiah 42:12
Transportation via a Philippines Air Force C-130 was arranged by the fire department in Manila, who treated FFC's team like royalty. The team praised God that all their gear is loaded.
Luis Carlos and Dan Rodriguez celebrated their 33 year anniversary on the LAFD in the back of a C-130 heading to Tacloban.
This is the team's receiving party at the Tacloban airport.
A "Jeepney" is the mass transit throughout most of the Islands.
Our first body recovery was under this large ship. It was about a 300' car ferry that washed ashore with the storm surge. Extracting this body was an overtaxing job for BFP cadaver retrieval team, who lacked some of the tools we brought. Even with our advantage of power tools (we used our chainsaw and reciprocating saws), it still took us 2 1/2 hours to complete.
We had to cut our way through the the debris under this ship. It was tight quarters and under heavy compression.
The body of a woman was trapped underneath. It was tangled up in various debris under heavy compression. It took us 2 1/2 hours to free the body using our chainsaw and sawzalls. The daughter of the deceased watched and was very appreciative that her mom's body remained intact. It's morbid work, but I can understand the daughter's concern. She warmly received our offer to pray for her afterward.
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This is the recruit class we spent the afternoon with training. The Bureau of Fire Protection is a national fire service with a paid professional force of 17,000 members. It is a requirement for all recruits to have at least a four-year college degree.
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Here is a pic of David Ledwitz, our team blogger from Texas, receiving his gift from Fire Chief Carlito Romero.
The Fire Chief and his staff have treated us just short of royalty, taking care if all our needs. He presented us all with gifts and the media showed up to hear who we are and why we came. Jim did a great job on the interview.
This is Jon Dwyer, one of the staff at Kids International Ministries (KIM), showing us their map of the islands and the command center at KIM and updating their work in progress. They are coordinating many deliveries of supplies and rotating volunteers into Tacloban to assist with food distribution and aid stations.
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