PORTLAND, Ore. — You wouldn’t know it if you walked past her in Portland, but Angela Owen is ready to travel, on 72 hours notice, anywhere in the world.
Owen is a senior program manager for Mercy Corps, the largest non-profit in Oregon. It works in 40 countries, helping people recover from disaster and build better lives for the future.
Owen has a big black bag in her Portland area home that carries almost everything she needs.
"I never bring all this stuff. But all of it's key in different locations," she said.
When the call comes, she goes.
"It's fast," she said. "You ask what it's like when the call comes. It’s very fast."
She packs two passports and a yellow immunization card.
"If you don’t have immunizations listed, they either don’t let you into the country or they give you a shot there in the airport. And you don’t want either one of those things," Owen said.
She also has an official ID card which carries her blood type. Her bag also carries two types of satellite phones, noise-canceling ear buds for long noisy plane rides, and more.
She and her passport have traveled to China, Indonesia and Myanmar, just to name a few.
Some of those travels are to train Mercy Corps workers in other countries on how to stay safe in volatile situations. Other times, she is one more set of boots on the ground, helping in any way that’s needed.
It wasn't always this way.
Angela started her professional life in advertising, a mistake for her.
"After being in advertising for 10 years, we just were burned out on the corporate world and made a radical change in our lives to join the Peace Corps," she said. "After volunteering and helping people while also helping ourselves, we just got hooked on it."
She went to work for Mercy Corps 11 years ago, helping with logistics for those in the field.
And then the devastating Haiti earthquake of 2010 hit.
“I set up a futon right there,” she said, pointing to the middle of her living-room floor.
"I would get up at 4 in the morning, go to work, then I’d be home by 8 or 10," she said.
"PM?" I asked.
"Uh-huh," she said.
“Long days,” I added.
“Yeah,” she agreed.
She loved it and eventually moved into field work herself.
In 2015, Angela traveled to Greece to help set up a new office and work with the refugee crisis there.
"We would take a car and drive and give them high-energy biscuits and water and juice for the kids," she said. "We found out they loved oranges and they were in season, so we did that."
Owen learned refugees had to walk two miles to register in the new country.
She said that under the government rules at the time, foreigners were forbidden to give refugees rides; doing so would get her kicked out of the country.
It led to heartbreaking exchanges.
"They’d show up, one woman showed up, she must have been eight months pregnant. And I’m like, 'I can’t give you a ride into town.' I told her all about the buses and hooked her up with some volunteers who were Arabic speaking," she said. "But that was really hard."
"Yeah, because she’s looking at you saying, 'Well of course you can. There’s room in your car,'" I said.
"There’s room in your car," Owen agreed. "And everyone else is like, 'Yeah, take the pregnant woman!' Ah, I can’t do that. A Greek person could. But I couldn’t," she said.
Three years later, it still hurts.
"Yeah. That was tough," she said.
There are other memories, traveling to Nepal to help with training after the devastating earthquakes there.
She remembers the aftershocks. Some hit at night.
“I rushed to the bathroom, which was the best door frame, and I realized I’m surrounded by glass and I’m [barefoot]. So after that, the shoes were by the bed and my arm was always looped through that strap," Owen said.
The strap connected to an emergency bag with essentials if she had to run out of the building.
She was amazed by the destruction she saw, but also the belief and hope she saw in the local residents.
"It was pretty impactful. But also, when you see that kind of devastation, you’re seeing all these people pitching in and helping and stacking bricks from something that’s been destroyed, in anticipation of rebuilding it. So at the same time there’s tragedy, there’s also a lot of hope," she said.
Which keeps her coming back for more. "The ability to help people at their lowest point in life" is what motivates her.
When Hurricane Michael leveled much of the Florida panhandle in October 2018, she flew down with Mercy Corps to help out.
Now she’s ready for what the next adventure brings and the people she will meet.
"It’s interesting because when you meet new people in a different location you think, 'Wow, people all over the world are wonderful.' They’re also wonderful right next door. You just have to take the time and get to know them. People are wonderful all over the world," she said.