Despite the ongoing pandemic, Hawai‘i continues to attract scores of visitors lured by the promise of pristine beaches, picture-perfect scenery and a balmy, tropical climate. Yet, the fact remains that while our state continues to be one of the safest destinations in the world, it is not unlike anywhere else. The islands still can be a place where unfortunate circumstances may befall just about anyone.
Of course, no person goes on vacation expecting the worst. Many are even prone to letting their guard down — which is when Visitor Aloha Society of Hawai‘i (VASH) steps in.
Established in 1997 by the Rotary Club of Honolulu, with the cooperation of the Honolulu Police Department, VASH serves as a temporary lifeline from which US mainland and international travelers may receive free moral support, translation services, and help with funeral arrangements and other emergency assistance.
Although there are VASH branches throughout the state, all operate independently of each other. Those found on Maui and Kaua‘i, for example, work in conjunction with Maui Visitors Bureau and Kaua‘i Visitors Bureau, respectively, while VASH on the Big Island and here on O‘ahu operate as nonprofit organizations.
How Can VASH Help?
The way it works is simple: When a visitor files a police report, encounters a social worker in the hospital or requires emergency medical services, VASH may be called upon to assist.
Be it car break-ins at popular lookout points; incidents of theft, domestic violence or injury — or even the unexpected passing of a loved one — our team of carefully trained volunteers intervenes with empathy and guidance to help vacationers in need find solace and move forward.
In some instances, guests on cruise ships that dock in Honolulu, particularly the elderly, slip and fall, sustaining an injury, while others simply become ill. Whatever the case, they may find themselves in a local hospital, separated from loved ones in unfamiliar territory. That’s when a VASH volunteer steps in to let them know they are not alone.
In another case not long ago, The Queen’s Medical Center–West O‘ahu reached out after treating a domestic abuse victim on vacation with her family. Every step of the way — from keeping her and her three children safe at their hotel to seeing them through TSA at the airport — VASH was right there, even following up with her after she returned home.
Unsurprisingly, our focus within the past year has expanded to include protecting Hawai‘i from the possible spread of COVID-19. Last year, for example, in partnership with the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority, we introduced the COVID-19 Flight Assistance Program, helping to monitor visitors who violate the state’s mandatory quarantine. In some of these instances, VASH has helped violators find discounted plane fares. In others, particularly when an offender has been arrested and is found to be without any money, we have donated return flights. VASH is funded by the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority. VASH is very grateful for this support.
But none of these efforts would be possible without the contributions of our dedicated volunteers, many of whom are Hawai‘i seniors. With only one other full-time staffer and five part-timers, volunteers are what keep VASH running full speed ahead.
With the islands reopening to visitors from all over the world, who continue to arrive en masse, VASH welcomes anyone interested in lending their time to our organization.
The Role of VASH Volunteers
The most common role our volunteers take on is that of friend and confidante, connecting with distressed visitors over the phone from the comfort of their own home. It is through these conversations that, with a friendly, understanding attitude, VASH volunteers offer hope and compassion. More often than not — particularly for those visitors who find themselves alone, far from family and friends in other parts of the country or world — all they are looking for is a sympathetic ear.
Volunteer opportunities abound: Some prefer to spend their time helping out in our office. One woman designs floral arrangements for visitors who find themselves in the hospital. Whatever their interest, there is something for everyone.
There are no extraordinary qualifications required of potential volunteers. However, those hoping to serve as liaisons for agitated visitors should possess excellent listening skills to best determine their needs.
Everyone must undergo a mandatory four-hour training session before being put to work. All we ask for is a mere three hours of their time each month — and it isn’t uncommon for an initial commitment to turn into a lifelong passion.
SAFETY TRAVEL TIPS FOR EVERYONE
While going on vacation certainly is a time to have fun, it doesn’t mean throwing caution to the wind. It’s all about finding a balance between leaving with both a memorable experience and everything intact. Seniors in particular should heed these simple safety tips:
• Upon arriving at your destination, take your luggage to your hotel. Even if your room isn’t ready, hotels will typically store luggage, ensuring it doesn’t have to sit in your car.
• Instead of traveling with all of your cash, credit cards and other valuables, use the safe in your hotel room to store personal items. Hopping out of the car just for a minute to snap a photo or grab a bite to eat? Take everything with you. On that note, don’t arrive at a destination and then store something in your trunk before embarking on an activity. You can never be sure of who’s watching. Never leave items unattended, as well.
• Pack a photocopy of your passport or driver’s license just in case the original is ever lost or stolen. Be sure to store them separately.
• Keep your hotel door locked at all times and use the peephole if anyone knocks.
• Look and listen. Be aware of your surroundings and trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, leave or get help.
O‘AHU: VISITOR ALOHA SOCIETY OF HAWAI‘I
808-926-8274 | JRich.VASH@hawaii.rr.com
Hrs.: Monday–Friday (except holidays): 9am–5pm
After-hour emergency number: 808-926-8274
24-hour: 808-482-0111 | email@example.com
MAUI COUNTY VASH
808-244-3530 | firstname.lastname@example.org
HAWAII ISLAND VASH
Kona, West Hawai‘i: 808-756-0785
Hilo, East Hawai‘i: 808-935-3130