Chris Gallagher and HELP International build a humanitarian dream team

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Someone should really do something about that.

The reaction to that thought is what sets Chris Gallagher apart from many others. In November 2013, Typhoon Haiyan hit southeast Asia. The world watched video footage as one of the most treacherous tropical typhoons ever recorded swept away homes, killed 5,260 people, destroyed cities and displaced families. Gallagher, a 24-year-old Highland native, saw the news and thought that someone should really do something. So, he did something.

When Gallagher first heard the news about the typhoon, he felt helpless. Thousands of miles away, he watched houses and streets he recognized being destroyed. Just over two years ago, Gallagher was knocking on the doors of those homes and walking down those streets. Ten months of his two-year mission in the Philippines were spent in the city of Tacloban, one of the cities hit hardest by the typhoon.

Soon Gallagher’s attitude switched from helplessness to hopefulness as he realized he could make a difference. He and his brother Jaron started organizing a way to raise money. The first step they took was hosting the Provo Run4Philippines event that took place this past January.

The brothers then sought out advice for how to put the funds to the best use. After speaking with HELP International, a nonprofit humanitarian organization based in Provo, they received some surprising news. HELP was impressed by the brothers’ passion and wanted to create a new summer program in Tacloban, Philippines, called the Philippines Crisis Team. The organization asked Gallagher to lead it.

“They approached me and asked if I would like to be a country director in the Philippines and that they would help me recruit a team and raise more funds for projects. It was one of the best phone calls of my life,” Gallagher said.

Arturo Fuentes, the executive director of HELP International, was confident in the decision to create the new program, despite the fact that disaster relief would require a different approach than the long-term aid the organization traditionally focused on.

“We loved the fact that one person cared so much to put on such an event to help people he had grown to love. HELP is about finding people, both here and internationally, who have ideas, passions and an entrepreneurial spirit and helping their aspirations come to fruition,” Fuentes said.

As Gallagher and HELP International worked together to start recruiting a team of volunteers, they quickly discovered that there were many people with the same determination to help the Philippines recover. All they needed was the means to do it.

Gallagher chose Stephen Anderson, 23, a BYU accounting major from St. George, to be his co-country director. Gallagher met Anderson in the mission field. Little did they know they would return to the Philippines to serve together once again. Anderson believes Gallagher helps provide an organized, yet relaxed atmosphere for the team and that he is the reason they are there at all.

“Chris has brought so much,” Anderson said. “For the program, I feel like his Run4Philippines fundraising event was a huge contribution since it is really the reason that a crisis team was formed.”

Brittany Moulton, a communications major at UVU, is another volunteer who was eager to find a way to help with disaster relief after the typhoon. Moulton has done humanitarian work in the Philippines off and on for the last two years with other organizations. She immediately fell in love with the culture and the people. She was set on returning to the country but didn’t have a group or program to go with. Then HELP announced its new program, and her desire became feasible.

“Spending my entire summer in the Philippines was all of a sudden something I would be able to do,” Moulton said.

Like Moulton, most of the current members of the crisis team had a previous connection to the nation and were open, or even searching, for a chance to return and help after the typhoon. Of the 10 current volunteers, eight of them served LDS missions to the Philippines. The crisis team has a unique advantage because most of the volunteers came to the country with a preexisting love for the people and the culture.

Fuentes traveled to the Philippines to help get the program started. He says the team is making a difference in many ways. Not only have the humanitarians found their own projects to work on, they have also been able to help other organizations complete projects as well.

“Our team has been a big resource for LDS Humanitarian, Catholic Relief Services and other building initiatives that have benefited from having extra hands,” Fuentes said.

Some of the projects the team has been working on this summer include empowerment camps targeting youth suffering from trauma, helping families recreate chicken farming businesses after everything they owned was washed away and digging wells for communities without access to safe drinking water. The work does not end there. Volunteers will be on the ground completing projects until Aug. 20.

Gallagher’s simple decision to do something has produced results he never dreamed of. He has been able to personally assist in aiding the Filipino people during their time of crisis, and he gave a team of passionate volunteers the opportunity to make a difference as well. Gallagher challenged others to follow their passions and see what comes of it.

“My best advice I could give is to take advantage of opportunities that come,” Gallagher said. “Take risks! And if you have ideas, or something to say, speak up. Share your ideas with others and implement them.” 

Visit help-international.org to join the Philippines Crisis Team. Weekly programs are available for more flexible scheduling. Check out the hashtag #helpintl2014 to see what the team is up to, or call the office (801) 374-0556 for further inquiries.

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