The average person will live a handful of days without food or water.
Emmanuel lived 10.
Erika Jensen of RescueNet, a Christian disaster relief organization based in Las Vegas, remembers his rescue vividly.
It was 2010 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. A 7.0-magnitude earthquake had rocked the island, devastating the region. Hundreds of thousands were killed, and millions lost their homes.
Jensen and her colleagues were treating patients in a street clinic across from the crumbling National Palace when a man came running, calling for help.
“I found my friend, I found my friend,” he shouted. “I need help digging him out.”
“At that point, we didn’t think we’d find anyone else alive,” Jensen recalls.
When the medics arrived at the scene, they found a 22-year-old man trapped in a cage of twisted rebar, pinned beneath the remains of a three-story building.
Still, it would be hours before they could free him. The team wasn’t prepared to do search-and-rescue that day and didn’t have the right tools.
Luckily, a group from the Israeli army approached.
“In collaboration with them, we were able to get Emmanuel out,” Jensen said. “It was one of the most beautiful scenes. I have an ‘after’ picture. He’s completely white with dust, and you just see a stream of tears.”
It was in Haiti that Jensen realized she wanted more training and vowed to bring more knowledge to every deployment.
The light bulb clicked on when a doctor asked her to administer an IV to a baby, and she didn’t know how. It flickered again when organizers of a field camp asked Jensen to see patients through the night, and she wasn’t sure she could.
She decided to go to paramedic school, and that decision led her to the United States.
Jensen, 32, has worked as a full-time volunteer since she was 19.
First as a member of Youth With A Mission, then its subsidiary RescueNet.
Full-time volunteerism isn’t common among charities, but Youth With A Mission is composed of 20,000 full-time, unpaid workers headquartered in 1,000 locations worldwide. The inter-denominational, nonprofit Christian missionary organization was founded in 1960 “to know God and to make Him known.”
Jensen lives off of donations from personal sponsors and estimates that she earns about $3 per hour. Sponsors have included friends, family and fellow church-goers.
“It’s definitely been a struggle financially. But at the same time I’ve never been without,” she said. “I’ve always had a roof over my head and I’ve always had food in my belly. Even just the fact that I have a roof over my head makes me richer than 75 percent of the world.”
And she would know.
Jensen has traveled to 26 countries, some for fun but most for work, and has assisted in four disasters — two in-person and two remotely, by serving as a communications point person between the teams on site and the outside world.
Raised Lutheran in the small Canadian town of Brooks, religion has always been central to Jensen’s purpose. In emergency medicine, she leans on her faith to keep her positive in a sometimes grim field, and to treat each person equally and with love.
Jensen learned of the RescueNet in 2001 while in Australia for a six-month training course through Youth With A Mission, but it took years before she was able to find the time and financing to complete training.
Finally, in 2008, she did.
In 2009, she deployed to Samoa to help tsunami victims. In 2010, she traveled to Haiti.
“By then I was addicted,” Jensen said. “After the training I was addicted. I couldn’t wait to get out there.”
School in Australia, where she was living at the time, would have cost $40,000 and taken three years full-time. In the states, paramedic training required two years of part-time schooling at the cost of $6,000.
“It was a bit of a no-brainer,” Jensen said. “I left the gorgeous beaches of Australia and moved here and was able to do paramedic school a lot easier.”
She moved to San Francisco in late 2010 and to Las Vegas in January 2011.
AIDING THE AID WORKER
The choice to pursue more schooling caused Jensen to lose some of her financing.
Her church at home in Canada wasn’t paying for others’ tuition, so they discontinued support. She also lost supporters during the economic crash in 2008, around the same time she joined RescueNet.
For years, she lived in dorms to lessen her cost of living, but today she lives in an apartment with help from her father.
“A lot of people hear my story and they hear of what we do and they’re just like, ‘I wish I could do something like that.’ But reality is for most people it’s not a possibility, whether it’s family commitments, job commitments or whatever it may be.
“And so one way for them to feel like they’re a part of it is to get behind me financially and sponsor it. So they know when a big disaster comes up, they’re not just giving to some random fund, you know, ‘call this number on TV,’ and they know exactly where that money goes to. … It’s one degree of separation from them and the disaster.”
To earn some money and keep her skills up to date, Jensen has applied for a green card and hopes to work as a paramedic in Las Vegas part-time, with a flexible company that will allow her to deploy when disaster strikes.
RescueNet, she said, will remain a priority. Though she could work full-time in emergency medicine, disaster relief with a Christian tie is her passion.
“If there was a way to get paid to do it, I would do it, but at this time there’s not,” Jensen said. “For me, my life’s never really been about how much can I make. It’s how much can I make a difference. If that means me living on next to nothing so I can help people who have nothing at all, then that’s fine with me.”
Contact reporter Kristy Totten at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-477-3809. Follow @kristy_tea on Twitter.