MDS Opportunity in Saipan

Published March 27, 2017 by Brenda Kauffman in Uncategorized

Location of Saipan in Western Pacific

Saipan is located 150 miles northwest of Guam in the Western Pacific, 3 hours flying time east from Japan, and is the largest island in the Northern Mariana Island Chain. Saipan is approximately 25 miles long and 12 miles wide and has a population of about 50,000 of diverse people groups. The island is a Commonwealth of the United States and comes under US Federal Jurisdiction. The island was captured from the Japanese during World War II. The primary language is English, but for the locals, Chamorro and Carolinian their native language is also spoken. It is a tropical island with average daytime temperatures in the 90’s and and 90% humidity. It cools off only slightly at night. It is a popular destination for Asian tourists, as the island has sandy beaches, mountainous landscapes, and championship golf courses and a casino under construction. These and other tourist attractions drive the economy.  The current construction of the casino has adsorbed most of the skilled labor and has put a strain on the availability of concrete and similar associated concrete building materials.

Disaster Typhoon Soudelor

On August 3rd of 2015 Typhoon Soudelor hit the island as a Category 4 storm with sustained winds of 130 mph with gusts to 160 mph, and inflicted major damage on the infrastructure and the housing on the island. Estimates are 158 homes destroyed and 296 sustained major damage.  Since Saipan is a Commonwealth of the US the event received a Presidential Disaster Declaration for both Individual and Public Assistance activating the full response of FEMA resources to the island.  Subsequently with the advocacy of CARE (Commonwealth Advocates of Recovery Effort) the Long Term Recovery Committee, and FEMA staff in Region IX; FEMA Invitational Travel which purchases tickets for volunteers working on the island for 3 weeks at a time was approved and implemented.

Mennonite Disaster Service Work

The current work of MDS volunteers is a combination of major repairs consisting of roof repairs along with major interior repairs from water damage, as well building new homes from the foundation to completion. The allotment of airline tickets to Mennonite Disaster Service from FEMA beginning with departures for Saipan on Friday April 21st and each 3 week cycle following through December 2017, and housing allows for 15 volunteers per week on the island which includes the cook, and additionally a Project Director or Co-Project directors. Many of the homes damaged or destroyed were of inferior construction, and the objective is to repair and build new homes that will sustain 180 mph winds. The houses MDS is repairing and building have been determined by FEMA to be eligible for assistance and have been vetted for additional financial assistance by the Case Managers of the Long Term Recovery Committee. Good shoes and shirts with at least short sleeves are important for construction work. Knee length shorts are okay. All tools and supplies for construction are provided.

Lodging on Saipan

Housing for volunteers is provided in two 4-bedroom homes in an area known as Capitol Hill near Garpan. The bedrooms are furnished with beds, and all linens, pillows, and towels are provided. You only need to bring personal items. Wi-Fi is available in the house. There are also 5 cell phones with local numbers available.

FEMA Invitational Travel and Voucher Reimbursement

Approximately 2 weeks prior to your departure for Saipan you will receive an email from FEMA Region IX with an authorization letter for you to call the FEMA Travel Agency to book your ticket to Saipan. The airline tickets are booked from the city/airport of your choice to and from Saipan, but unfortunately FEMA Invitational Travel does not permit stopovers. There will be reimbursement vouchers of $19.00 Per Diem for each day you are on the island for your Incidental Expense that you incur while away from home. The FEMA representative in Saipan will provide instructions once you have arrived. Funds will be processed and deposited in your checking account upon your return home.

Contact Information

This is a Mennonite Disaster Service Region IV Project supported by the Mennonite Disaster Service Bi-National office. All volunteer assignments are coordinated through John Eshleman as well as the Invitational Travel authorization.

Call or email John Eshleman, Region IV Board Chair if you have any questions.

Email:; Cell phone:  909-630-3660k

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