Category: Resilience

Haiti’s South Department: supporting people towards self sufficiency

Anne and her family

© BRC/ Amanda George

Although Haiti’s South Department was not directly affected by the earthquake that struck the country in January 2010, between 100,000 to 120,000 people moved to the region and the size of an average family in the south doubled. Communities struggled with poverty before the population shift, and the disaster made life still more difficult for thousands of people.

Between October 2010 and October 2011, the British Red Cross supported displaced people and host families in the region. One of the ways we helped was by giving cash grants, livelihoods training and support to over 3,000 people. One of the people who benefited was mother-of-eight Anne Dite Lina Pierre Louis, who received two cash grants for £160 as well as training.

Anne says: “My brother and sister died in the earthquake, so their children came to live with us. For a time there were 15 of us all living under the same small roof, although now we are down to 11. This was very hard economically. I’m responsible for the household and all of these children so the burden fell on me. I had to do everything I could to take care of them.”

More money, fewer problems

Anne says: “We had so many problems and I couldn’t see how we were ever going to solve them. Then the Red Cross came along and gave us this money. It changed my life, because suddenly things became easier.

“With the first grant we used it to buy things that we needed immediately, like food and clothes, because it was a difficult moment for us. The rest we spent on buying three goats. With the second grant, we were able to invest in agriculture.”

The Red Cross helped Anne learn how to start a vegetable plot

© BRC/ Amanda George

Before receiving the second grant, Anne took part in an agricultural training. She says: “I have always worked in agriculture, but I did learn some new things in the training. For example, I learned how to start a vegetable plot, which is what I have done with the second grant. I have rented a field so that I can have more yield, as well as planting vegetables in my own garden.”

Training makes a lasting impact

The British Red Cross employs agricultural experts to support people like Anne with technical advice while they spend their grant on cultivating crops. She says: “This support from the Red Cross gives me a lot of encouragement and helps me to farm in a better way.

“The crops should allow me to make some profit by December. With this money, I would like to be able to fix up my house, and send the children to school. Seven of them are still in school, so it is a big expense. Little by little, we will find a way forward.”

“I know that the British Red Cross will leave soon, and so it is even more important that I invest my money well so that even after they are gone there will still be a way forward for my family. By planting crops on a larger scale than before I hope that we can be self sufficient from now onwards.”

We’re no longer taking donations for our Haiti recovery work, but you can help us to provide immediate aid when disasters like this strike by donating to our Disaster Fund.

Lesotho: keyhole gardens equal hope



© Sarah Oughton/BRC

As climate change, food crises and the HIV pandemic continue to hit hard in Africa, Lesotho has found one small but successful solution to some of its big problems – keyhole gardens.

Lesotho is a southern African country barely the size of Belgium, where food and HIV are inextricably linked. Its economy, which is heavily reliant on agriculture, faces many challenges – including severe droughts, a short growing season, and soil stripped of nutrients by intensive agricultural practices.

With a population of just 2.2 million, Lesotho also struggles with one of the world’s highest rates of HIV, at 23.6 per cent, compounding its challenge to grow food, with its workforce severely weakened.

Diane Moody, British Red Cross programme manager, explains: “The HIV pandemic is linked with chronic food shortages and for households affected by HIV it can be a vicious circle. It is essential for people to have access to healthy food when taking the life-saving anti-retroviral drugs, but it also becomes increasingly difficult for them to grow their own food or afford to buy it.”

Struggling to eat

Majoele gardening

© Sarah Oughton/BRC

For families affected by HIV and struggling to get food, the obstacles can seem overwhelming. However over the last few years, organisations in Lesotho, including the Lesotho Red Cross, have pioneered a new approach to help people grow enough food.

Majoele Nkobloane, 66, from Macha-feela village was diagnosed with HIV in 2007. She says: “We used to have to travel long distances to find vegetables and sometimes the herd boys would beat us. It was difficult because of taking the medication and not having enough food, which made me vomit.

“But in 2010, the Red Cross started teaching us about keyhole gardens. I’ve learned about manure, compost and other techniques, which help us grow lots of spinach and other vegetables. Now my weight and health has improved.”

Keyhole gardens

Majoele laughing with Red Cross worker

© Sarah Oughton/BRC

Keyhole gardens – so-called because of their shape from above – are a great way for people to grow their own food, especially for those who don’t have access to a large plot of land or the energy to maintain it.

The gardens are built to waist height and arm span – making it easy for people to tend them and grow nutritious, healthy food almost all year round.

The Red Cross trains ‘lead gardeners’ in each community to share knowledge on how to make the gardens as productive as possible. It also teaches methods of food preservation to help sustain people between harvests. Excess food can be sold at market, helping families gain a small income.

Orphans and vulnerable children

Children making hero books

© Sarah Oughton/BRC

Majoele says: “The Red Cross has made a huge difference, especially for the orphans who sometimes go without food for some days.”

Nomayeza Rabatho, Lesotho Red Cross orphans and vulnerable children officer, says: “As well as practical support we are trying to address children’s emotional pain. Some children aged nine are already the head of a household and they have a big burden to bear.

“We encourage children to make their own ‘hero book’, where they can write their story. If the children aren’t ready to talk, writing or drawing about things can be a good start.”

Ambassador of hope

Condom demonstration

© Sarah Oughton/BRC

Mabonang Sethathi, 48, who is living with HIV, also recognises the importance of emotional support for adults, especially when tackling the stigma associated with the disease.

A few years ago, a Red Cross worker who visited Mabonang regularly to ensure she took her medication recommended her for a new Red Cross role as an ‘ambassador of hope’.

Mabonang says: “At first I thought: who me? And then I thought: why not give it a go. Now I inform people about how to prevent HIV and the importance of getting tested. We use role plays and songs to get the message across.

“I cannot stop smiling. I am in good health and living my dream of helping people. Yes, I used to face stigma and some people would call me names. But now I do not care. I am proud of my status and want to ensure people who have HIV are not discriminated against.”

What the Red Cross is doing in Lesotho

Young girl at Red Cross centre

© Sarah Oughton/BRC

Lesotho has around 270,000 people living with HIV, including 28,000 children. The disease has also left around 130,000 children orphaned (UNAIDS 2009).

The British Red Cross supports the Lesotho Red Cross:

  • helping 2,400 people living with HIV
  • supporting 2,800 orphans and vulnerable children
  • reaching 80,000 people with information about how to prevent HIV.

More about our work in Lesotho

The lessons of Sidr: easily learned and easily shared

Two sisters stand in front of their makeshift home after Cyclone Sidr

© Amirul Rajiv/ Red Cross

Four years ago today, Cyclone Sidr struck Bangladesh. It claimed over 3,300 lives and injured more than 34,500 people. The government released warnings the day before, and the Bangladesh Red Crescent worked to evacuate people before the cyclone hit. Around 5,000 community volunteers trained by the organisation worked through the night to alert people using megaphones and hand sirens.

The British Red Cross has been working with communities in Bangladesh for many years to improve their levels of preparation for cyclones. More lives certainly would have been lost if communities had been less prepared – a cyclone the same strength as Sidr in 1991 killed 140,000 people.

We continue to work with the Bangladesh Red Crescent to reach vulnerable groups and communities. This helps ensure that, in future disasters, still more lives can be saved.

Safety at sea

Abu hanif with his son

© BRC/ Sarah Oughton

A group particularly vulnerable to cyclones are fishermen. Many fishermen died during Sidr, often leaving their families with little source of income. We have given 300 fishermen information on how to prepare for cyclones. They are all from different boats, ensuring that their knowledge will be shared and used widely.

Abu Hanif, a fisherman, says: “I learned so many things from the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society training. In the middle of the sea we can now get warning of cyclones via the radio. I know that after signal number three I have to stop fishing and come back to shore. I was given a buoy and rope, and taught how to throw it to rescue someone. I also learned first aid and am more confident about how to help injured people.”

Empowered women

Suchitra Rani teaching cyclone preparedness to other women

© BRC/ Sarah Oughton

During cyclone Sidr, hundreds of women and children died simply because the men weren’t at home to give the permission to leave the house and seek safety in a cyclone shelter. We have since been working to empower women, educate them and train them in skills such as first aid, and search and rescue. Women are also given ‘preparing for cyclones’ flip charts, enabling to share their knowledge.

Simple changes, such as tying back hair or changing from wearing a sari to baggy trousers, can help make it easier to escape a cyclone unharmed. Women are taught to bury documents, money, dried food and drinking water in a bucket attached with a rope to an empty plastic bottle. This enables them to find their basic essentials and start recovering after the cyclone passes.

Working with influential religious leaders, we have helped reduce the stigma of women being seen alone in public. Suchitra Rani, a member of a Red Crescent women’s forum, says: “As a woman, it used to be difficult to go outside on my own. I would get criticised. But since the Red Crescent has been working with us it’s become more acceptable.”

Less lives lost

Fishermen are very vulnerable to cyclones

© BRC/ Sarah Oughton

In 2009, Cyclone Alia once again brought destruction to Bangladesh. But this time, people in Suchitra’s community were prepared. Suchitra says: “In our community lots of people lost their lives in Sidr, but in Aila only one died.”

It is almost certain that Bangladesh will again experience cyclones. While we can do nothing to stop these natural disasters, we can lessen the suffering and destruction they cause. By spreading simple, live-saving knowledge to people who need it most, the British Red Cross and the Bangladesh Red Crescent help people survive the storm and rebuild their lives afterwards.

Read more about how we help people prepare for disasters

Donate to our disaster fund

Haiti’s toilets: no joking matter

The Red Cross employs local workmen to build latrines

© Amanda George/ BRC

In the UK, we accept toilets as an essential part of life, but it’s not often we sing their praises. The most publicity the humble lavatory gets is probably in the form of toilet humour. What goes on behind the bathroom door is shrouded in embarrassment, secrecy and a wide array of euphemisms, ranging from spending a penny to powdering your nose.

Hardly surprising then, if we sometimes forget how serious sanitation is. The fact is: toilets help save lives. From the gold-plated WC to the bog-standard public loo, they all ensure potentially harmful human waste is disposed of safely.

Most UK residents can take for granted that they’ll never be more than a few minutes from a functioning toilet. However, even before the 2010 earthquake, Haiti only had one toilet for every 1,000 people.

What do you get if millions of people don’t have sanitation?

With the worst sanitation in the western hemisphere, there are millions of people across Haiti without access to a toilet. Poor sanitation, compounded by the earthquake’s destruction, had devastating consequences; the cholera outbreak that began in Haiti last year has already killed 6,000 people.

The British Red Cross responded to the outbreak by setting up a cholera treatment center and oral rehydration points. It also started a cholera prevention education campaign that had reached over 214,000 people by the end of July 2011.

Once local communities made the connection between lack of sanitation and disease, demand for toilets was high. So, to complement the cholera response and recovery work it was already undertaking, the Red Cross started a programme to build toilets in the rural communities of Les Anglais, Coteaux, Chardonnieres and Port à Piment.

Why did the community build a latrine?

Jean Eubert Amardy, a Red Cross field officer, says: “People just go to the bathroom anywhere, and this leads to unsanitary conditions. Building latrines is one of the best ways to counter disease and keep people healthy.

“In some ways, the cholera outbreak that highlighted this situation has provided an opportunity to make a difference to the local sanitation situation and to tackle the causes of cholera and other diseases, and not just the symptoms.”

Edma Maguerite sitting upon her half-built composting latrine

© Amanda George/ BRC

The project has built toilets for both vulnerable households and schools. It has worked with local communities to find affordable solutions that take into account environmental factors such as soil type.

Edma Maguerite has been hosting family members displaced by the earthquake. Local workmen employed by the Red Cross have just finished building her a composting latrine. She says: “We have never had a toilet so we are very satisfied that we will soon be able to have our own. This will make a big difference to our lives.”

Find out about our work to improve water and sanitation in Haiti

Read stories from survivors we helped after the earthquake

Discover how we help people rebuild their lives after a disaster

When the daily crust disappears: seeds of change in Bangladesh


Hands scooping up lentils

In a recent survey by the British Red Cross, one-third of the UK population said they’d never heard of ‘food insecurity‘. The term, used by aid workers, refers to a complex set of issues behind the fact that 925 million people in the world go hungry every day, despite there being enough food in the world to feed everyone.

Poverty is the major underlying factor for people struggling to get enough food. However, when a disaster strikes it only makes the situation worse for those who are already vulnerable.

For this reason, the British Red Cross is increasingly focussing on helping people protect their livelihoods from disasters.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word ‘livelihood’ as: a means of securing the necessities of life.

Boiling it down to the basics, it’s about securing enough food, water and shelter in order to survive. It sounds simple. But of course the reality of survival in the aftermath of a disaster is far from simple.

For example, maybe you live in an agricultural region along the coast. You are a daily labourer in the fields and make just enough money to get by. But since a cyclone caused a surge of seawater, the waterlogged land is too saline to grow crops. There is no more work for you.

And like the others in your village, your house, made of bamboo and leaves, got washed away in the storm. You sleep under a makeshift shelter made with scraps of wood you salvaged.

At night you hear your neighbour crying. Her husband was a fisherman, who never returned after the storm. Her teenage son tries to comfort her and feels useless. His young siblings complain of hunger. His father taught him how to fish. But all the boats and nets have been destroyed.

These are just a few of the problems faced by survivors of a cyclone in Bangladesh.

Based on experience, including helping people recover after the 2004 Asian tsunami and Cyclone Sidr in Bangladesh in 2007, the British Red Cross believes cash grants are one of the most effective ways of helping people re-establish themselves.

Bangladesh-grocery-shop“Every context is different and it’s important to do market analysis before helping people start new income generating opportunities,” Joy Singhal, recovery manager, explains.

“We currently have livelihood programmes in Haiti, Bangladesh and Azerbaijan, but each one is tailored to the specific context. Alongside the cash grants we help people develop business plans and provide training where necessary.”

In May 2009, Cyclone Aila ripped through south-eastern Bangladesh, causing massive destruction to thousands of people’s homes and means of making a living.

In November 2009, the Bangladesh Red Crescent did an assessment and found that many families, with nothing to fall back on after the cyclone had ripped through their communities, were still living in terrible conditions and barely scraping by.

In response, it developed a recovery programme, in partnership with the British Red Cross, to help more than 1,000 families in eleven villages in Khulna – one of the worst-affected districts.

The regional economy, previously based on agriculture and livestock, collapsed in the aftermath of the disaster because the land was waterlogged and too saline to grow crops. It will be years before fields can be cultivated again and there is enough fodder for livestock to survive.

At the beginning of the recovery programme, the Red Cross teamed up with a local organisation called Prodipan, which specialises in livelihoods, and carried out an assessment looking at feasible alternatives to agriculture and livestock.

New options include: fish farming in small ponds; rearing poultry; tailoring; running small shops and ‘crab fattening’.

Mina at a community meetingIt may have taken two years, but Mina Mondol, 26, from Shingershack in Khunla district is now living a life she could barely imagine after Cyclone Aila destroyed her home in south-western Bangladesh.

Mina says: “Both me and my husband used to be daily labourers – working in the fields – but after the cyclone there was no work for us.

“But we have our own pond and with the money from the Red Cross we’ve started cultivating crabs and selling them in the market. I had three days training in crab culture. Since starting our new business we are earning much better money. Now we get 4,000 taka (£32) a month, before we got a maximum of 1,300 taka (£10).

“We used to eat only some rice with salt and pepper and after the cyclone it was even worse, we had nothing. But now it’s different, we can afford fish sometimes, or even meat and vegetables.”

Throughout October, the British Red Cross is running the Seeds of Change campaign to raise awareness about the issue of food insecurity. Visit our website and watch our Seeds of Change video.

Haitian women learn to read, write and speak out


Mandy George, our communications delegate in Haiti, reports back on how Red Cross literacy classes in La Piste camp are improving women’s lives:

Unemployed teachers give literacy lessons

© BRC/ Amanda George

The levels of literacy in Haiti are low, but among the most vulnerable groups living in camps they are even lower. It is estimated that 80 per cent of residents of La Piste camp in Port-au-Prince – home to around 45,000 people displaced by the earthquake on 12 January 2010 – cannot read or write.

The British Red Cross has been working in La Piste camp since the earthquake. Its latest initiative, which started in May 2011, involves teaching groups of the most vulnerable women in the camp to read and write in Creole.

Six unemployed teachers from the camp lead the classes, which have so far reached 70 women. The syllabus is based on relevant subjects, including health and hygiene issues and gender-based violence and protection.

A problem shared

Borry Jatta, camps projects manager for the British Red Cross, explains: “These classes are not just about learning to read and write. The rationale behind them is that while the women are improving their literacy skills they are also being exposed to messaging around issues that affect them every day in the camp, that they will then be able to pass on to their families.”

Gender-based violence, a severe issue in the camp, is a key subject discussed in the literacy classes. Joachin Montus is in charge of delivering messages on violence prevention. As well as informing the women on how they can avoid being victims of violence, and how to get help if they are, Montus helps the women share their stories with each other.

Montus explains, “The level of violence and gender-based violence in the camps is extreme. The main symptoms that we see as a result of this are fear, frustration, insomnia and in the worst cases irreparable mental problems.

A woman practises her writing

© BRC/ Amanda George

“Many people are leaving the camp because it is too dangerous to live in, even if they don’t have anywhere better to go. When the students share their stories it can be very disturbing and sad, but it is important to give them a place where they can safely discuss these things and learn from each other.“

Proud and confident

The classes are made up of two groups: beginners who are learning the alphabet and how to write their names, and those who are more advanced and able to complete dictations on subjects such as cholera, cyclone preparedness and what to do in an earthquake.

Carline Cesar, a Red Cross volunteer who works in the classroom once a week, says: “These women started from scratch and now they are able to write whole texts. It’s incredible to watch their confidence develop along with their writing skills. The students are amazingly enthusiastic – so much so that they want classes every day. They can’t get enough.”

Esperanse Ronise, 43, is one of the literacy students. In two months, she learned to do basic dictations. She says, “Now when I go places I can read the signs. It makes me feel so proud that I can now write my name and read what is going on around me.”

Giving women a voice

The Red Cross has also started a women’s committee in the camp, after it became clear that the general male-dominated community meetings were not an adequate forum for women to express themselves.

Women in La Piste camp learn literacy

© BRC/ Amanda George

Borry says: “This has made a huge difference; the women now feel much more comfortable to express themselves and they speak up more and talk in detail about their concerns. There is still a lot of fear about reporting cases of rape and gender-based violence but we are doing everything we can to given women a confidential and secure way to do this, as well as working with partners to improve security in the camp.

“This has included advocating within the UN system for action to be taken, resulting in upgrading of fences and increased patrols. We also arranged the donation of 16 solar-powered streetlights from the Digicel Foundation to improve night-time security.”

Lovania Nourissant, 42, has been a literacy student for the past two months. She previously suffered a violent attack and robbery in her tent, and says: “This kind of thing has happened to so many of us. For those who have not lived through this, I hope I can help them know how to protect themselves from a similar situation. These classes are giving me a lot more confidence in my life. They also allow me to forget the hard times in the camp for a while. That is priceless.”

Read more on Lovania’s story

Find out more about our recovery work and how we’re helping people in Haiti

Pakistan: one year after the floods

Volunteer gives out food to flood survivors

© Sarah Oughton/BRC

One year on from Pakistan’s worst floods in 80 years, around 12 million people are still struggling to survive without any sustained means of income.

Pakistan is still suffering. The scale of the disaster, which began at the end of July 2010, was huge: one fifth of the country was submerged in water and a staggering 20 million people were affected.

Paula Baizan, British Red Cross recovery programme manager, says: “The Pakistan Red Crescent was quick to respond and with support from international Red Cross partners has helped more than two million people with emergency relief.

“The focus now is on helping communities recover their livelihoods and strengthening their resilience for future emergency situations.”

After the trauma they experienced last year and with another monsoon season on the doorstep, many survivors are fearful there will be more devastating floods.

“People are afraid of the sound of running water,” says Ea Suzanne Akasha, psychosocial delegate for the Danish Red Cross. “Some had so little time to flee and are still suffering panic attacks. They don’t know how they will cope if it happens again.”


Teaching vulnerable communities how to identify potential threats, and setting up village committees to plan and prepare for disasters is at the core of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies flood recovery programme.

This also involves getting committees to register with the government so they are linked in with early warning systems. Ultimately, the programme will benefit 172,000 people in 39 villages prone to hazards.

“We’re also helping people make their homes stronger, so they’ll be safer during the next disaster,” explains Khalid Hassan, a volunteer with the Pakistan Red Crescent Society in Sindh province. “Before the floods, people built their houses on the ground. We are now telling them to build on a base of at least four feet, using six pieces of timber in one wall, instead of the usual three.”

Pakistan-boy-smiling in the rain

© Olivier Matthys/IFRC

As families struggle to get back on their feet, hunger and malnutrition are real threats, particularly for millions of women and children. Those who lost everything in the floods are saying that what they really need help with is finding ways to generate their own income, so they no longer need depend on aid.

The Federation’s recovery programme, which the British Red Cross is supporting, will give cash grants to around 5,000 families. This will help them start small businesses in farming, tailoring, transportation, handicrafts and grocery shops.

Find out more about how we’re helping people recover from the Pakistan floods.

Welcoming the government’s response to the Humanitarian Emergency Response Review


At the British Red Cross we cherish and are ever grateful of the public to offer support regardless of any consideration other than the desire to help fellow humans in distress.

Amongst all the factors to be considered in responding to humanitarian disasters – value for money, efficiency, political convenience or national interest – it is humanitarian need which must be paramount above all others.

This is why we welcome the government’s response to Lord Ashdown’s Humanitarian Emergency Response Review (HERR). We support the drive for more efficiency and accountability in humanitarian aid so that the most vulnerable can be helped more effectively.

For example, reducing the need to deploy teams from overseas by building local resilience and capacity to respond is absolutely key in improving disaster response. It’s an approach the international Red Cross Movement through its global network grounded in local communities has championed for years and will continue to support.

We don’t want excessive bureaucracy in a system that must be fleet of foot, but it is right that any funding – whether taxpayers’ or donors’ money – can demonstrate success.

Read DFID’s statement on the Humanitarian Emergency Response Review

Full text of the Humanitarian Emergency Response Review (PDF)