Manager, Pateman & Company
This profile was originally published in the Feb/March 2014 issue of CPABC in Focus magazine.
Profile by Michelle McRae
“The sound was the loudest I’ve ever heard,” says Donna Cloutier of the 7.2 magnitude earthquake that rocked the Philippines on October 15, 2013.
A manager with Pateman & Company in Courtenay and former meteorological technician in the Canadian Armed Forces, Donna was volunteering in the Philippine province of Cebu at the time of the quake. It was the sixth day of her first mission with Rotaplast, a humanitarian organization that provides free reconstructive plastic surgery, dental treatments, and speech therapy to children born with cleft lip and palate anomalies in developing countries. She’d been eager to get involved ever since a fellow member of the Courtenay Rotary Club had described his own Rotaplast missions.
“I knew I had to be a part of it,” she says. “Also, my spouse’s family is from the Philippine island province of Bohol, so I saw a chance to help the country where my family lives.”
Tasked with sterilizing surgical tools in a Cebu hospital, Donna worked closely with nurses and doctors, observing surgeries up close.
“I witnessed how every player on the team, including myself, was integral,” she says. “The demands put on health care workers were evident—they all care so much for each and every patient.”
These demands were compounded on October 15, as the earthquake forced an evacuation of the hospital.
“Buildings in the Philippines are not built to Canadian standards,” says Donna. “Running out of the hospital—it was very scary. I had visions of the ceiling collapsing on us.”
In the ensuing chaos, staff were forced to treat patients outside, where three patients subsequently died due to a lack of oxygen from manually operated pumps.
By the time Donna flew home on October 17, the quake had claimed more than 100 lives. So it was with great relief that she and her spouse Edwin (Eddy) Betinol, a physiotherapist and former search and rescue volunteer, learned that their family members were safe. Some, however, had lost their homes and—like many residents of Bohol, just 20 km from the quake’s epicentre—they were still living in tents when Typhoon Yolanda hit a few weeks later.
“It was actually the second storm to hit the island after the quake,” Donna says. “The first was Tropical Depression Wilma, which caused some flooding—but nothing compared to Typhoon Yolanda.”
She and Eddy first heard about the typhoon via family on Facebook, and were able to maintain contact until power was lost to Bohol and cell phones gave out.
“After waiting 24 hours for word, we were relieved to hear that everyone was okay,” Donna says. “But the devastation in other areas was unimaginable.”
To help with the relief effort, the couple collaborated with Courtenay’s tight-knit Filipino community to host a fundraising dinner on November 24. They raised over $31,000.
One purchase made possible by the fundraiser was a generator for Bohol Island, where the power outage had prevented access to clean drinking water.
“They are slowly rebuilding their homes,” Donna says of her family’s village. “The funds needed to rebuild aren’t coming fast enough, and finding shelter is challenging, but the Philippine people are the most resilient people you’ll ever meet.”
Despite the inherent risks, Donna hopes to return to Cebu later this year.
“My first Rotaplast mission was truly rewarding,” she says. “It definitely won’t be my last.”