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Waukegan pastor documents aid effort in Philippines

Kenneth Smith North Chicago embarked missitrip regiPhilippines hit by TyphoHaiyan with Hospitals for Humanity Nov. 24. The group about 20

Kenneth Smith of North Chicago embarked on a mission trip to the region in the Philippines hit by Typhoon Haiyan with Hospitals for Humanity Nov. 24. The group of about 20 aid workers was the first to reach the inhabitants of Malapascua Island, where people were desperate for clean water, food and medical treatment. Smith is pastor at Mount Moriah Christian Center in Waukegan. | Photo courtesy of Kenneth Smith

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Updated: January 27, 2014 2:46AM

Kenneth Smith of North Chicago is celebrating Thanksgiving in the Philippines, where millions of people are fighting for survival two weeks after one of the worst typhoons in history.

Smith, who has made other overseas mission trips, is volunteering as a photojournalist to document the work of Hospitals for Humanity, which sent a medical aid team that was the first to reach the island of Malapascua, where survivors were treated for dehydration, tetanus, diarrhea and injuries from flying debris.

“My wife at first couldn’t understand how or why I would leave my family and miss Thanksgiving Day,” said Smith, who arrived in the country last week. “But I couldn’t truly be happy and thankful when I knew I had an opportunity to go and help people who just wish they could have some clean water and a little food.”

A pastor at Mount Moriah Christian Center in Waukegan, Smith, 53, is communicating with the Lake County News-Sun by phone and email when he can access a network. He has talked to dozens of men, women and children who recounted how they ran from place to place seeking haven as roofs and walls fell around them during the four-hour long typhoon, which struck on Nov. 8 and left more than 5,200 people dead. Nearly 2,000 remain missing and more than 3.4 million have been displaced.

The typhoon slammed into the islands with winds of up to 195 mph and triggered storms that decimated towns and villages, destroying homes and businesses and flooding fields.

A man who told Smith that he was usually the “macho” type, said he cried with relief when the storm finally stopped.

“I was so thankful to be alive,” the man said.

“Once the doctors set up a clinic, we immediately attracted long lines of people who needed medical attention,” Smith said. “There were lots of infections. People needed tetanus shots. Surgeons were able to save the arm — reattach ligaments — of an 11-year-old boy who had cut himself badly with a machete.”

Smith said that despite losing everything but the clothes on their backs, despite sleeping on mats on the ground every night, residents of the city of Logan don’t appear psychologically devastated.

“Their attitude is just unbelievable,” Smith. “In America, when we lose a house in foreclosure, we fall apart. I met a man who had found just a chair and a bed in the rubble that was his home. He and his wife said they knew they had to start all over again but they would do it, one piece at a time.”

“I think it’s a cultural thing,” Smith said. “On the island, everybody knows everybody. Everybody helps everybody. People depend on each other. They need each other.”

“Pastor Kenny,” a former longtime youth minister for his church, has visited a damaged elementary school and church, the latter which drew hundreds during a recent service.

“Despite everything, the kids still want to learn, people still come to church and praise God,” Smith said.

Smith, who is six feet, two inches tall, said he had given many of his clothes to Filipinos who are a foot shorter, but who quickly alter them to fit. He also hands out Smarties candies to kids who eat just one at a time, he said, and carefully re-close the small roll.

“If I could send a message to people back home, it would be this,” Smith said. “This holiday season, be truly thankful and grateful. Kiss your mate. Hug your children. Forgive those who have done you wrong. Life is short. Don’t complain. Millions of people have it worse off than you.”

Hospitals for Humanity planned to travel to the other side of Malapascua Island this week. Smith returns home on Dec. 1.

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