relief work in indonesia: an interview

some of you remember when i mentioned
one of my best friends melissa here.
volunteers for an international emergency disaster response team
called rescuenet
melissa recently went to indonesia
to do relief work in wake of the two earthquakes last month.

we met in south africa almost four years ago, and hit it off right away!

 after leaving sunny south africa,we have had to maintain a long distance frienship
since she lives outside vancouver and i live in winnipeg.
despite the distance, we have managed to stay in touch
thanks to frequent phonecalls + letters and less frequent visits
{we have reunited in california, vancouver, winnipeg, and seattle!}.
she is one of the sweetest people i know
and despite her tiny size,
she is also one of the toughest.
i am just so proud of her!

melissa has graciously agreed to a little interview here on "my suitcase heart".
she had an absolutely incredible experience
+ i’m so excited for everyone to hear all about it!

Hey there Melissa Wilson. I don’t think a lot of people will have heard of RescueNet – can you describe the organization with which you went to Indonesia?
The organization I  volunteer with is called RescueNet. It's a rapid-response disaster relief team based out of Australia, Holland and the US. All members are volunteers who have been trained in emergency first aid, disaster psychology, light search and rescue and radio communications. I was trained two and half years ago at the US headquarters in Las Vegas, since then I have been getting more training and working on gathering my gear and funds to deploy. Padang, Indonesia was my first deployment.

What is RescueNet's connection to the UN?

During any sort of disaster or crisis, the UN sets up a headquarters. The UN will set up a headquarters in a central part of the region and that's where all the briefings happen and all organizations go to to be given information, supplies, and work. When our team arrived, there was a UN table set up at the airport and we went there immediately to register. When an NGO {like RescueNet} enters the country to provide aid, they must register with the UN. Once you are registered then the UN knows who is there to help and what they can offer. It’s a very efficient system to get aid to specific areas.

What was the situation in Indonesia like at the time of your deployment?

The situation in Padang and other affected areas was quite bad after the earth quakes. The damage was extensive throughout the city and some regions north of the city. Most buildings sustained some sort of damage, there were a few hotels that collapsed and many people trapped. The government had just called off the search and rescue before we arrived and brought in heavy machinery to start clearing the debris. 

Rumor has it that you had to travel in your snazzy uniform.
What was that like?

Traveling in uniform was very interesting. I received a lot more attention than I'm used to! A lot of people were asking me who I worked for and where I was going. It also helped a lot when we needed to get extra gear and supplies onto planes. Most of the time, the airlines are very helpful when it comes to relief work.

What sort of work did you do while you were there?

By the time we arrived, things were mostly taken care of in Padang. A lot of aid work was already being done and people were being well treated and taken care of.

The region we covered was the area surrounding the large lake

The UN asked us to go on a reconnaissance mission in a remote mountainous region north of Padang. There were no official reports from that region so the UN had no idea if any aid had reached that area. We were given four 4x4 utility vehicles with drivers, translators and supplies. For the next eight days, we traveled through an area that had been absolutely devastated by landslides.

We went from village to village, assessing the situation in the remote area. We compiled information about the extent of damage, the number of injuries and deaths, and what supplies were needed. We then reported our findings back to the UN in Padang. Our team was also able to open a temporary medical clinic, hep distribute food, and provide trauma counseling.

Most children were too afraid to go back to school, fearful that the building would collapse on them.
So many classes were being held outside.

What is one thing you will never forget about your first deployment?

After being in the mountains for about six days or so, the US military landed a Sea King helicopter right by our base camp. It was an amazing thing to see this helicopter land, but the take-off created a huge dust storm and even damaged our tent and some of the motorcycles nearby! The next day we saw them fly over to another village where they established a food and supply drop. I was really hoping to get a ride in the chopper but sadly, that didn't happen.

What got you interested in this type of work?

I first became interested in this work after living overseas in South Africa for six months. I always knew I wanted to work overseas but didn't know in what capacity. While in Africa, I realized that I didn't want to teach, be a nurse or anything like that so I started to look into relief work. Over the years my interest has grown in the area of disaster relief. I really want to be one of the first people into a crisis situation and leave as soon as it's stabilized. RescueNet has given me the training and the opportunity to do that!

You got home safely a few weeks ago.
What have you been up to since then?
What’s up next on your horizon?

I've been home now for almost three weeks and have spent a lot of time getting everything in order. My gear is all cleaned and packed! I am working on fundraising and getting supplies together for the next deployment - it could happen at any time! I am also getting more medical training. I will be starting an Emergency Medical Responder course in January. I hope to also take some more search and rescue training and trauma counseling courses. I want to be as trained as possible so I can help to the best of my ability while overseas.

what an amazing girl! if you would like to know more about her experience,
you can jet her off an email.


happy weekend everybody!



  1. An incredible story and an incredible woman! I really admire Melissa's work and her passion! Her role and RescueNet's role are so crucial to international relief effort!

  2. beautiful interview, jan.
    it's so crucial to have girls like this with so much passion and skill in their field - and using that passion to find a solution!

  3. wow, what an amazing girl. I love hearing about people that are making a real difference in the world. Great interview!

  4. Hi, I'm Luchie from Indonesia, I've found and read this blog, and from the bottom of my heart I say thank you very very very much for your friend, Melissa, for her participation in my country. I'm very appreciate that <3 <3

    Much love,


  5. i've got a close fren of mine who volunteers for relief work and she has been to & fro cambodia. i'll love to participate in such relief work sumday when i get the chance to! it'll feel great to be able to be of some help to pple in distress!

    P.S. i tagged u for awards, so do visit my blog sumtime soon to claim them!


  6. That is such a cool story! Melissa sounds absolutely amazing. That was a very inspirational post. It makes me want to go and make a difference in this world!

  7. Oh my goodness, your blog is so so lovely! Thank you for stopping by mine :) I'm officially a follower and I can't wait to read more!


  8. so jeal of her! that's exactly what i want to do! :)


thanks so much for writing! i love hearing from you!