Outstanding Alumni Rico Selga has volunteered in Kosovo, Liberia, Haiti and Uganda since 2000. Selga, a 1998 Clark College graduate, works as a nurse for HCR ManorCare. He continues to serve disaster stricken countries through Medical Teams International.
“You can’t shut it off once you’ve seen the suffering of people,” Selga said.
Aside from working as a nurse, Rico Selga owns and operates Hanna Hall coffee lounge with his wife Jennifer Selga. This June they will travel to the Philippines and an elephant sanctuary in Thailand to volunteer.
In 2013 Rico and Jennifer traveled to their native Philippines to volunteer in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan. The Typhoon killed more than 6,000 people and affected over 14 million others, according to the UNICEF website. He provided medical disaster relief in addition to distributing food, supplies and clothing.
He said it was an eye-opening experience to see the results of a disaster first-hand instead of from a TV screen.
This time around Rico and Jen are bringing their three-year-old son Keetan Selga.
Rico, Jennifer and Keetan will return to the small town of Guiuan to volunteer for a week. When the typhoon hit, news coverage focussed primarily on the city of Tacloban. As a result, Guiuan didn’t receive as much aid. “Even to this day it hasn’t had sufficient support to get back on their feet,” Rico said.
“There’s really no jobs over there,” he said. The country relies heavily on its coconut industry, but the typhoon destroyed many of its trees that take over six years to mature, Rico said.
Susan Tan, Head of Guiuan Disaster Relief Center, will direct the Selgas once they arrive. “You kind of just go there open-minded and be ready to help out where they need help,” Rico said.
After one week in Guiuan, the Selgas will fly to the Elephant Nature Park, an elephant sanctuary in the Chiang Mai province of Thailand. The sanctuary is home to many abused elephants, who may have been used for circuses, logging, riding or even begging in the streets, said Jennifer. The sanctuary also houses stray dogs and cats that have been rescued and can now roam freely with the elephants, she said.
The family will pay $200 a day to stay at the sanctuary. The fees will help pay for food, water, veterinary bills, and buying abused elephants from their owners, Jennifer said.
Jennifer has volunteered with the elephants before, but this will be the first time Rico and Keetan will come with her.
Volunteers work from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, with a short lunch break in between. “It’s fun. You get to pet them, you get to play with them,” Jennifer said. “It’s actually very relaxing.”
“I’m more interested in volunteering for animals,” Jennifer said.
After the typhoon everyone was in survival mode and animals were often neglected, Rico said. It was very hard for Jennifer to see all the suffering animals when she visited Guiuan in December 2013, and she knows it will be hard for her to come back and see them again. “I almost don’t want to know what’s happening anymore,” she said.
Jennifer is glad that at least in the elephant sanctuary, her son will see un-caged, well-cared-for animals playing. “I want him to know that animals should be free.”
Rico said that volunteering in another country teaches things you can’t learn in a college setting.
“You don’t have to be a medical professional,” he said. “You can be a student and have a great desire to help people. There’s always an organization that’s going to take you.”
“Once you’ve seen the suffering of people, you feel compelled to help out,” Rico said. “You feel like you have to do something, because those small gestures of kindness go a long way for these people.”