Monday, December 14, 2015

Living Leyte People Features: Paige Elizabeth Leslie, Humanitarian at Heart

Paige Elizabeth Leslie
AGE: 22
Originally from: Houston and Austin, Texas, USA

Paige has a heart for humanitarianism. In her 22 years of life she has participated in aid and volunteer work in 3 prominent global disasters  and they are: Hurricane Sandy which occurred in the United States eastern sea board, the most recent earthquake in Nepal and with us here in Tacloban City after Typhoons Haiyan and Ruby. By now she has become a seasoned humanitarian but I believe she is just getting started. This is her interview.

LL:  So Paige, can you tell us about the place and the vibe where you come from?
PEL: I’m from Houston, Texas. I grew up in a quiet and small suburbia called Sugar Land in Texas; it’s 20 minutes from downtown Houston. I don’t like it, it's cookie cutter, safe, a nice neighborhood. It’s great for when you are raising children, I understood why my parents raised us there but it’s not a good place for adulthood. When I got older I began to explore Houston more and I found it to be a very diverse city. I went to the University of Texas in San Antonio, then to Texas State University in a campus that's 20 minutes from the Austin city limits.
LL: I like Austin too, it’s like a culinary mecca of sorts; what’s the Southwest by Southwest Festival like?
PEL: It’s awesome, it’s a great time. All the bands play in the streets, the big band names and there are films being shown as well.

LL: What was your life like before you came?
PEL: I had already been working with All Hands as a volunteer for Hurricane Sandy.
LL: I understand this occurred in New York and New Jersey right?
PEL: Yes, we had sites in Staten Island and Brooklyn, we did rebuilding...
LL: Of houses?
PEL: Mainly basements.  The basements were flooded and we worked with "Resurrection Brooklyn" which is partnered with Red Cross, they funded the project we had.
LL: How many volunteers were there? And didn’t it happen during winter? 
PEL: There were about 400 volunteers in a period of 9 months. Yes, it was in the winter, it was brutal, it was very cold. I was also in Nepal these past 7 months, I had already come here to Tacloban to help after Typhoon Haiyan then I went with All Hands to Nepal. I was with a DAR (Disaster Assessment Relief) team, where we go and assess the damage incurred by disasters. After the initial assessment there, it was already very bad that we  had to help immediately. There are already 940 volunteers from All Hands in Nepal post earthquake, that number is changing as people get done with their volunteer work. .
LL: There was a second earthquake that occurred one week after after the initial one right? Can you tell us about that? You were already there for the 2nd one right?
PEL: Yes, the first one was 7.8 and the second one was 7.4. There were many aftershocks, we got used to it but then the 2nd one happened. We thought it was just one of the aftershocks but it was very extended and buildings began to shake harder, things were falling to the ground. We were at the roof top so we ran downstairs, we were told to stay indoors though because of the debris falling from the buildings. We were in Katmandu at the time, we couldn’t see the extent of the damage at first but as soon as we went outside, we saw  it, then we moved to Sindhupalchok where 90 percent of the place was destroyed.
LL: What are the Nepalese people like?
PEL: They are very sweet, they would help us with the things we would do, such sweet people.

LL: What's your impression of our place?
PEL: I have already been here since last year, but I’ve never met anyone like the people here.

LL: How could we improve as a people?
PEL: I guess, people could take better care of the environment.

LL: What pivotal moment made you choose to become a volunteer/aid worker?
PEL: After Hurricane Sandy, I just had to help. I was in school, I did 3 years of school but I have stopped for now and did volunteer and aid work. I have to do 1 more year of school though.

LL: Has your experiences here affected or changed you as a person? And do you think that your experience here will be useful for you in the future?
PEL: Being here made a very big impact on me. There was more of an obvious need here compared to New York. We were restoring and rebuilding basements in there but when I came, one could see that the need was more obvious.
LL: Yes indeed, after the typhoon loads of people had no houses at all.

LL: Given all that has happened in the world, the news we see, the political and religious upheavals between countries and ideologies, there’s terrorism and the natural disasters which we cannot control. Do you feel there is hope for the future of our planet?
PEL: Call me an optimist but things are constantly changing and people will help with the change, like in Nepal, new ideas have come up in building more earthquake-resistant structures.
LL: How so?
PEL: There is this new thing called “Earth Bags”; it’s new, but they are trying to do this now where they use bags filled with soil and they stack them until they are dense to make the wall. It makes the walls absorb more shock in the event of an earthquake because unlike concrete which is rigid, it breaks; whereas the walls with Earth Bags will sway and not break.
LL: Cool! Like the suspension bridges during earthquakes.
PEL: That’s the idea.

LL: Given an opportunity to resolve one global issue or conflict happening in the world right now,  which one would you take a gander at?
PEL: Homelessness and the way we treat mentally-ill people.
LL: Indeed this is a concern isn’t it? After Yolanda, there was an increase in the number of people who could not cope mentally, a lot of them bear the trauma of watching their loved ones drown or get taken by the water.
PEL: That’s so sad.

LL: Apart from volunteer work or being an aid worker, what’s the next best thing that makes you eloquent with words?
PEL: Swimming, volleyball, shows, concerts.

LL: What’s next for you?
PEL: I might take an extended break but I am not done with All Hands, I am very passionate about this organization and doing humanitarian efforts.
LL: Who founded All Hands?
PEL: A guy named David Campbell began All Hands. He started after the big  Southeast Asian tsunami that affected Thailand and Indonesia. 
LL: How many projects has All Hands been a part of from the beginning?
PEL: In the past 10 years, we have had 55 projects. 
LL: How impressive!

LL: We are about to get done but wanna play one-word-answer questions and Bonus Q?
Moon or Sun?  Sun
Monochrome or Colored?  Monochrome
Iceland or Australia?  Iceland
FĂștbol or Football?  Soccer
Coffee or Tea?  Coffee
Eagle or Dolphin? Dolphin
Heels or Flats? Flats
Red or Blue: Blue
Beach or Shopping: Beach
Bonus Q: If you were given the power to spend 2 hours with someone who has passed on, who would it be and why?
PEL: Andy Warhol, because I would like to talk about his life in New York during the 60’s. I’d like to ask him about Edie Segdwick, the very first “It Girl." I like the pop art he did. I find that whole lifestyle interesting.

The things that Paige has gone through in the 22 years of her life is profound to say the least. Her good deeds done will leave memorable footprints for the many people she has touched and affected. It was an honor to talk to Paige, she has put many things on hold like her schooling, pursuit of a successful career, personal life and comforts for the sake of the stricken. That cannot be taken lightly at all, not by the New Yorkers, the Nepalese and the Filipinos who have seen her hands reach out to them in the time they needed it most. 

Thank you very much Paige.

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