Caseload increases for agency that helps tourists facing crime, other adversities

Zhen Ren
Zhen Ren
Jessica Lani Rich
Jessica Lani Rich

By Minna Sugimoto - bio | email

WAIKIKI (HawaiiNewsNow) - Imagine being on vacation in Hawaii and suffering a theft, a medical emergency or something even worse. That's when the Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii, which receives funding from the Hawaii Tourism Authority and through private donations, steps in to help.

VASH says it has seen an increase in its caseload.

On her second day in Hawaii, Zhen Ren of China took photos of the beautiful sunset off Waikiki Beach.

A short time later, she discovered her bag that she had placed on the sand was gone. Inside that bag was her hotel room key.

"We rushed back to the hotel and they have already taken my bag away, my suitcase, my cosmetic bag, everything," the 54-year-old said. "Nothing left."

No clothes, no money, no passport.

After hearing about the case, Jessica Lani Rich from the Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii arrived to pick up the pieces.

"She bought me the necessary things, the underwear garment, bra, pair of pants," Ren said with tears in her eyes. "These may not worth much, (but) worth a lot to me."

Rich also helped Ren, an English education teacher at a university in Beijing, with her passport replacement and bought her a new pair of reading glasses.

It's the kind of support VASH offers tourists who become victims of crime or face other adversities.

"We're here to take any situation, any negative situation, and do everything we can to show our aloha to the visitors, to let them know that we care, and to let them know that we're going to do everything possible to make a better situation," Rich said.

VASH provided family assistance when a 61-year-old man from Canada was killed in a fall off a cliff at Chinaman's Hat in June, and when a 28-year-old man from New York went missing during a scuba diving excursion off Kahala in August.

It also became involved when a 71-year-old man from Japan died after falling out of a moving trolley last week.

But not every case is high-profile. The agency says it responds to something nearly every day.

"Our caseload has increased," Rich said. "People get sick. People lose their wallets. This could happen whether they're in Hawaii or anyplace else."

The non-profit organization says it has helped an average of 1,600 to 2,000 visitors each year since 1997.

"Hawaii's sun is still shining upon me," Ren said through tears. "I'm coming to Hawaii again because I know there are nice people here."

VASH operates with an annual budget of $245,000 and a team of 125 volunteers.

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