It makes for an interesting story that Hollywood actor Paul Walker—young, good-looking and immensely popular—took up as one of his causes assistance to the survivors of Supertyphoon “Yolanda” and worked to help those literally and figuratively a world away from his own life. The buff and blue-eyed Walker was known for his star turn in the blockbuster “Fast and Furious” series, but beyond the limelight he promoted the issues and efforts that mattered to him. He was a celebrity who understood that he could make a difference.
And it helped that someone such as he served as the “face” of efforts to help distressed countries or push certain advocacies, as the United Nations knows only too well when it names celebrities as its special envoys—for example, the actress Angelina Jolie—for its many causes. These ambassadors bring needed mainstream attention to important endeavors and spur both support and fellowship.
But Walker took up humanitarian work on his own. He visited post-quake Haiti in 2010 and observed that the relief efforts there could use more skilled help. Together with volunteer first-responders, he founded Reach Out WorldWide (ROWW) to help coordinate and provide assistance after disasters. And through it all, he eschewed the self-promotion so often seen in vanity relief missions in the age of the all-seeing social media.
Haiti was just the beginning. ROWW helped out in Chile after its own horrific earthquake, in Arizona after a terrible forest fire, and in Oklahoma after a hurricane. Walker first reached out to the Philippines in 2011: ROWW was one of the first to arrive in Cagayan de Oro after the onslaught of Tropical Storm “Sendong.” And when Yolanda struck last month, ROWW immediately sent its team to flattened Leyte.
ROWW operations manager JD Dorfman said the organization had “a special love for the Philippines.” In news reports, Dorfman detailed how Walker, when told how much it would cost to send aid to this country, shrugged off the cost and funded the relief effort himself. Together with his fellow actors shooting the seventh of the “Fast and Furious” series, Walker filmed a video that was posted on YouTube. “We are reaching out to the fans,” he said in the video. “We love Manila. We were there last year. We love the Philippines. It is better to be armed and ready, let us start sending.”
Described by his colleagues as kindhearted and hardworking, Walker certainly walked his talk. Dorfman said Walker “put in millions” of his own money. “We wouldn’t be here otherwise,” Dorfman said. “He paid for the whole thing. In the Philippines, the locals were asking us: ‘Who’s funding you? Who’s helping us?’ When we said ‘Paul,’ they couldn’t believe it. They said: ‘Why would he do that?’” But Walker wasn’t just the financier of ROWW’s activities, according to Dorfman: “He didn’t just write the checks. He was on the field.”
On Nov. 30, the day he died, Walker was engaged in the usual: helping people in need. He and ROWW were holding a toy drive in his native California, which was intended to provide hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts to children and to victims of domestic violence. As the event was coming to an end in the afternoon, Walker slipped out and joined his friend Roger Rodas for a ride in the latter’s red Porsche Carrera GT. The end came like a scene in a movie: The car burst into flames after hitting a tree and a concrete post, killing the two men.
Walker was only 40. How tragic that he would be gone so soon. The reminiscences of his friends and the tributes of those who admire him showcase how, under Hollywood’s glitz, good men do good work that go practically unnoticed except by those helped by it. There are promises and pledges for ROWW, with groups and individuals determined to ensure that the organization Walker founded will go on to help even more people. “If there’s one good thing to come from any of this, it’s that we can raise the charity’s profile. That’s what Paul would have wanted,” said Paul Walker Sr.
It can only be hoped that Walker’s sterling example will inspire others with his means and fame to do good things for people in need, even those a world away. “We lost one of the good ones,” Dorfman said. “But he’s left a lasting legacy.”
The Philippines will remember him.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.