When visitors to Hawaii experience tragedies, one group is there to aid with aloha

The Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii comes to the aid of tourists dealing with emergencies.
The Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii comes to the aid of tourists dealing with emergencies.(Hawaii News Now)
Updated: Jan. 9, 2019 at 6:55 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The family of the 13-year-old boy who died while scuba diving in East Oahu headed back to Mongolia on Wednesday.

Temuulin Tsogt was part of a tour in Maunalua Bay on Saturday.

The tragedy is one of the latest cases for a non-profit agency that is dedicated to helping visitors deal with emergencies.

“Our role was to be supportive and to do anything we can to help,” explained Jessica Lani Rich, president of the Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii (VASH).

VASH started assisting tourists more than two decades ago. Rich said the group has been responding to a lot more death cases in recent years. The most common cases, however, are thefts on the beach, vehicle break-ins and medical emergencies.

The organization assisted 5,623 visitors from 2015 to 2017. The group is still compiling figures from last year.

“We’re there to show love and aloha and help them through the most tragic time of their life or a situation where they’ve lost something. It’s always about loss,” said Rich.

Last July, a homeless man in Waikiki knocked out Arizona visitor Asheligh Andreasen when she tried to stop him from harassing another homeless man. Rich helped her deal with the crime while far away from home.

“She was a big reason why I feel like I will still return and I felt comfortable enough to go back for trial,” said Andreasen.

Funding is always a challenge. The Hawaii Tourism Authority provides $318,000 each year and the nonprofit organization also receives funds from other travel groups.

Donations also come from visitors that the group has helped. In 2005, Ashley Siva and her father survived a glider crash on Oahu that killed the pilot. VASH threw an Elvis-themed birthday party for the young fan when she turned 13 several days later. After returning home, she held a fundraiser and donated the money to the organization.

“They really helped our family recover from the crash by making us feel like even though this tragedy happened and this big event happened we could still enjoy our time in Hawaii,” said Siva.

Volunteers say working with visitors in a crisis can be intense, but also incredibly rewarding.

“I have some wonderful friends around the world that we have interacted with because of tragedy, and we stay with them, keep in touch. There’s a healing process that goes on,” said volunteer Robert Gentry.

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