Category: International

Six months on: Tesco fundraiser reports on Haiti’s recovery

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Angie Channing travelled to Haiti with the British Red Cross. In this guest post, she describes her journey to see how the money so generously donated by the public is being put to use in the country

Today marks the six month anniversary of the Haiti earthquake and I can hardly believe that just a few weeks ago I was there, witnessing both the utter devastation and the inspiring resilience of survivors with my own eyes.

I can still feel the shock I felt when first faced with the crumbling ruins of the country’s capital, Port-au-Prince, which was pretty much razed to the ground.

Of course, like everyone else, I’d watched in horror as the extent of the disaster unfolded on the news back in January. But there was a specific moment when I knew I had to do something about it.

I saw a photo of a little boy being rescued from the rubble and it really touched me. I have three children myself and when I thought about how that little boy was going to survive amidst all that destruction I realised I had to start fundraising.

Luckily, because I work for Tesco, which has an emergency response partnership with the British Red Cross, I was able to fundraise at work. I was so proud of the way everyone pitched in and after a week we’d raised £6,500.

But it came as a complete surprise when months later, I received a phone call from the Red Cross inviting me to visit Haiti to mark the six-month anniversary and see for myself how the funds we’d raised were helping people.

Although I was a bit nervous – I’d never been further than Newquay on my own before! – I realised it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

So I hugged my kids goodbye and flew out to Haiti. I tried to prepare myself for what I would see but I don’t think it’s something you can ever really prepare for.

Outside the airport, families lived by the side of the road in shacks made from material and bits of broken buildings. I’d never seen poverty like this before.

I also got to visit some of the makeshift camps, such as La Piste, where around 40,000 people are crammed together living in tents or makeshift homes made of tarpaulin and bits of wood.

During the visit I was shown how the Red Cross has been using funds to improve the dire sanitation situation for those living in the crowded camps.

It felt really good to find out more about the difference the money we’d raised was making. So far, the Red Cross has provided medical treatment for 95,000 people and vaccinated more than 150,000 against measles, diphtheria and rubella. Everyday, it transports 2.4 million litres of clean water to 94 different sites across Port-au-Prince, and has provided 120,000 families – almost 600,000 people – with emergency shelter material.

When I flew home, I couldn’t stop thinking about the things I had seen.

From talking to people I’d found out how the desperate situation weighed on them so heavily. So many people’s livelihoods have been wiped out and all they want is the opportunity to work.

But despite the hard conditions in the camps there was still a real sense of community – I remember the kids playing hopscotch in the dust and when a Red Cross van came around playing music everyone was eager to dance and have fun.

The Haitian people show such courage and strength when many of us would feel like giving up. I am truly in awe.

Angie will be on This Morning talking about her visit to Haiti on Monday 12 July at 11.05

From Scotland to San Francisco – interning with the American Red Cross

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If someone had asked me at the beginning of the year where I could see myself in a few months time, I would have never even considered saying America, let alone as a Red Cross Intern. Yet somehow fate smiled down on me as an application process turned into an interview, and suddenly an acceptance, to one of the more prestigious internships avaliable to Red Cross volunteers between the ages of 18 and 25.

The American Red Cross (ARC) Bay Area Chapter hosts the 3 week internship every year, and usually accepts two interns into the programme. This time, three of us were welcomed to sunny San Francisco; one member from Jordan, one from China, and myself from Scotland. The idea of the programme? To build bridges between, and learn about, each national society, with the view to improving each Red Cross society for the better.
So far, the experience has been amazing, and it’s only day three!

While sight-seeing throughout San Fran city has been incredible, the food is beautiful, and the people amazing, what we have learned about the ARC Bay Area is a total mind-blow. Their services are similar to the British Red Cross in terms of principles; we both aim to help people in crisis, whoever and wherever they are. What differs is how we go about it. And I suppose this is where the whole point of the internship comes into play – we discover what works, and what could be effectively implemented into our own society.

For example, their disaster response services are very similar to that of British Red Cross but speaking from experience of local response, for example our response to severe flooding, we seem to have a greater focus on medical elements as well as setting up centres, handing out supplies and offering emotional support.

Meanwhile, ARC are predominantly logistical, dishing out the right resources and providing information and promoting disaster preparedness. Of course it all depends on what disasters happen in which area. San Fran and the Bay Area are at a greater risk of earthquakes; the last time I heard, Scotland’s land-mass hadn’t shifted for quite some time, at least not with the strength to knock buildings down. Yet I feel that the ARC’s “Be Red Cross Ready” preparedness plan could certainly be adapted for use in those zones prone to more ‘British’ disasters, such as bad weather or flooding.

So that’s one area that has piqued my interest. Of course there are plenty of other areas the ARC specialises in, the details of which have been crammed into our heads in the space of three very action-packed days. Although I’m not going to start an entire discursive essay here, after all, that would be telling too much 😉

I’ll end this post for now by saying that the programme is informative and fantastic fun, and don’t worry, it’s not all about the ARC. Part of the intern’s project is to create a presentation comparing the ARC with their own society, so I get to make the BRC look good for a while too! We can also incorporate some cultural elements – I’m wondering if I’d scare folk by walking on stage with tartan draped round me and my face painted blue, yelling “Och aye the noo!” at the top of my voice. Maybe a bit too “Braveheart”?

Find out more about international youth volunteering and internships

International news round-up

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Different parts of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement have been in the news lately, so I thought I’d give you some links to more information.

A woman in GazaIsrael/Gaza: The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has issued a statement calling for the blockade of Gaza to be lifted as it constitutes a collective punishment that is in clear violation of Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law (IHL). They have also criticized Hamas for not allowing detained Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit contact with his family since his capture in 2006, also a violation of IHL. Read the ICRC’s full statement.

Kyrgyzstan/Uzbekistan: Ethnic fighting in Kyrgyzstan has spread to the south of the country, and an estimated 100,000 people have fled over the border to Uzbekistan. François Blancy of the ICRC said: “There seemed to be a number of wounded among the refugees. I saw roughly 40 men with gunshot wounds. Two mothers told me they had lost their children in the chaos. People are in a state of shock. Some spoke of homes burning with children inside and the ICRC is clearly worried about the accounts we’re hearing of extremely brutal violence.” The ICRC is working in both countries. Find out how the ICRC is helping.

Somalia: The ICRC says: “After 20 years of war, the dire humanitarian situation in Somalia continues to worsen. The security climate is precarious, weather conditions have aggravated the problem of food insecurity, and water-related diseases are on the rise.” Read an interview with the ICRC’s water and habitat coordinator in Somalia.

Internally displaced people worldwide: Last year, the ICRC worked with Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies to help 4.6 million people who’d fled their homes but hadn’t crossed an international border. It was a record number. Find out where their help was most needed.

American floods: In several U.S. states, heavy rains have caused dams and riverbanks to overflow, killing several people. The American Red Cross is running shelters and reminding people how to prepare for floods.

Image ©ICRC/C. Goin

Billy Wingrove on freestyle football, HIV and South Africa

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From rural South Africa to White Hart Lane I’ve been working in some interesting places lately and I’m really excited to share with you our latest video – which stars top freestyle footballer Billy Wingrove!

Donate to the British Red Cross South Africa HIV fund

As the World Cup kicks off in South Africa, Billy’s been finding out about the bigger contest the country is facing – the challenge of dealing with HIV.Red Cross volunteer hugs a woman

Last month, I met some amazing people in KwaZulu-Natal, including Mertie Mberekwana. Although she is HIV positive, she is one of the bubbliest people I’ve met. She told me how scared she was when she first found out and got very sick. But once she started getting antiretroviral treatment her health improved dramatically.

Mertie said: “After I got better, I got a feeling that I have to go out there and help others as the Red Cross people helped me. It is now my passion in life.”

Now Mertie is a dedicated Red Cross volunteer. I spent an afternoon with her as she traipsed through the long grasses of Amahlongwa, carrying two heavy bags of food in the midday African sun.

She visited two people that afternoon, oBilly Wingrove holding football in a stadiumne was bedridden and one was deaf. Both of them are living with HIV and I could see how important Mertie was to them, not only for the food she brought but also her friendship.

The stigma of having HIV is a major factor in the spread of the disease. Fighting stigma and educating people about HIV is a major part of the Red Cross’ work.

I was so impressed with how the South African Red Cross is providing enormous support to people engaged in a daily struggle living with HIV.

Also while I was there, and despite not being a football fan, I couldn’t help but get infused with World Cup fever sweeping across the country. I think there may even be some soccer stars of the future honing their skills in the Red Cross football team!

Anyway, check out Billy Wingrove’s world-class tricks and don’t forget to pass it on.

© Image 1 Sarah Oughton/BRC

© Image 2 Ash Sweeting/BRC

Moving on (Haiti)

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Leogane - epicentre of Haiti's earthquakeThese words seem to sum up the world’s attitude to places like Haiti. Once in the eye of a media storm of attention and public good will, understandably the focus has moved on. The recent election, the world cup, economic woes, another celebrity / political / sporting scandal understandably capture our attention. I too am beginning to move on from Haiti as the last of our immediate response programmes come to a close. Rest assured though that the Red Cross focus on Haiti has not diminished as our recovery team take up the baton and undertake the necessary detailed planning of our engagement for the coming years. In fact we’ve been liaising closely together since the start with an eye to next steps.

One team in particular, our mass sanitation emergency response unit, subject of several blogs this year, has come to an end though the work it has been carrying out will continue. A longer-term team is now continuing to work with the people in two large camps to meet their sanitation needs. This is so important. The initial rapid emergency latrines we put up are designed to last two to three months and we are working to replace them with sturdier and more enduring models. We’ve already replaced 50 of the rapid ones. I’ve been impressed with how well the 300 we’ve put in have fared, particularly so in places where the surrounding families have paid such close attention to the cleanliness of them. A welcome reminder about how important it has been for us to engage community around key hygiene practice messages.

Red Cross water and shelter in HaitiWe’ve organised the removal of 30 tonnes of garbage from the camps each week and improved camp drainage, critical to prevent disease spreading during fierce rains. Additionally, eleven bathing blocks have provided extra privacy for females and males to wash. These are good achievements, but there have been great challenges in handling such a dense urban environment with little space to build and high water tables. The difficulties in meeting all the needs in a social context where pre-earthquake ills have transferred into the camps where we are working have kept us on our toes too. We’re still there, still engaging, making progress but also in it for the long haul.

For me, what remains now is to formally evaluate the performance of the sanitation team and to ensure that we incorporate all the lessons learned into the preparation, equipment and ongoing training of future teams for the next big disaster. There won’t be much time to rest on any laurels though. There’s plenty to take the place of Haiti. This week alone we are reacting to the first hurricane of the central American season, Agatha; to escalating food insecurity hitting Niger and Chad; to deepening humanitarian crisis in Somalia and Yemen where fewer and fewer humanitarian agencies are able to continue operating due to security considerations – though the Red Cross with its careful, neutral positioning can and does.

Volunteer to cure the back to work blues

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Big Red Cross Bus in Bishop AucklandApologies for my silence, dear reader, I have been away on holiday and took a temporary blogging breather; not even I love the Red Cross enough to blog from a sunlounger.

Many people feel pretty gloomy coming back to work after a spell away but not me (apart from having to cycle home in torrential rain yesterday). I call it the ‘Red Cross effect’, where exposure to good works induces a feeling of perpetual wellbeing.  

I had only been back in the office five minutes on Tuesday when I heard about all the great stuff  I’d missed while I was away…

Thousands of parents had gone to the Baby Show in Birmingham on 21-23 May, with many getting a dose of our life-saving  children and baby first aid courses via demos from staff and volunteers.

I heard that Tesco has now raised more than £582,000 for the British Red Cross and DEC Haiti Earthquake Appeal.

And our first aid volunteers had kept revellers safe at the One Big Weekend event in Bangor on 22-23 May as well as runners at the Edinburgh marathon on 23 May.

I was also delighted to see our Volunteer’s Week Big Red Cross Bus had started its journey around the country.

How’s that for a busy week at work (for everyone else). It gave me a little glow to hear about it all. Of course, you don’t need to actually work here to enjoy the Red Cross effect and banish your post summer holiday back-to-work blues.

Why not become a volunteer?  Pay a visit to the British Red Cross bus (find out where it’s visiting) before 12 June, to discover the dozens of varied and flexible volunteering roles we offer. You never know, you might snap up a bargain designer bikini from the onboard shop for that next holiday while you’re there.

How the rainy season is affecting people in Haiti

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Maxime Jean, survivor of the earthquakeAs the rainy season continues in Haiti, an increasing number of camps are beginning to suffer adverse effects.

The drainage systems of camps formed in fields are making life, for many, particularly difficult. However, some settlements, such as Automeca, where the camp committee has worked closely with the British Red Cross on developing drainage systems, are better able to withstand the rains.

Last month, I was in Haiti making a short video about the emergency operation. It’s vital that good water and sanitation conditions can be maintained to avoid a massive public health disaster and I got to see how the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement was getting prepared.

I spoke to Maxime Jean, 43, who lives in a camp in Leogane – which was at the epicentre of the quake – where the Red Cross is now working. He said: “I was outside my house with my daughter when the quake happened.

“My wife and son were inside the house and it came crashing down. I can’t say how they survived but only God knows the answer to that.

“After the quake, I went to different communities, meeting people and getting them together in camps and trying to get the help they needed, such as water. I did this because I believe that if someone needs help then I should help them.

“The Red Cross is helping us build these latrines. I went to the office to speak to them about the fact that we needed help and now it’s being done.

“They are also doing hygiene promotion with us, to teach people to wash their hands after using the toilet – I mean they know this but we are reminding them because people are forgetting.”

At the moment, the heavy rains are causing damage to latrines in some temporary settlements. A major concern is the potential for widespread diarrhoea, which can be fatal for children, as well as the increased levels of mosquito-borne malaria.

latrine building in haitiThe Red Cross is continuing to improve and maintain sanitation facilities in vulnerable settlements by building tank latrines – as opposed to pit latrines – which are better able to withstand the rains.

Conditions for people in the camps remain extremely challenging. However, all the work that has gone into preparing for the rainy season means the public health disaster that was feared has so far been avoided.

The next big test for Haitian communities struggling to get back on their feet will be the hurricane season, which typically starts in May.

The Red Cross is helping 120 camps get prepared with early warning systems for dangers ranging from epidemics to flooding. It is identifying large communal shelters and evacuation routes, as well as training community members in first aid and basic search and rescue.

Health and hygiene promotion also remain a priority and volunteers are handing out mosquito netting, cleaning drains, collecting rubbish and improving sanitary conditions.

Finally, medicines and relief items are being prepositioned in Port-au-Prince and other areas in case the roads become inaccessible.

Hygiene promotion, song and dance in Haiti

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Liz Brunwin works in first aid education and was delegated to Haiti to work with the British Red Cross mass sanitation team

It’s my first time out with the hygiene promotion team and I’m in La Piste camp for the morning. As I do the support role for the mass sanitation team, my day is usually spent in the office tent working on the finances and administration side so it feels really good to be out.

It’s 11.00 and the sun is fierce. But that doesn’t stop people gathering as soon as the first beats start pounding out from the sound system. The three clowns take their position on top of the truck and off it goes, winding slowly and loudly down the lanes of La Piste with its infectious repetitive beat. It’s difficult to take your eyes off the three clowns who are busy shaking, gyrating and strutting their way up and down on top of the truck, cutting an impressive image against the blue sky.

Immediately kids of all ages, teenagers, and adults all emerge from their closely packed shelters and start dancing, singing and swaggering alongside the truck. More and more people emerge until over a hundred people are following along. Over the music the MC is working the crowd, encouraging people to join us and putting across a few key hygiene promotion messages. Lots of kids trail the truck all the way as it makes its way up and down the lanes of one area of La Piste and finally back to British Red Cross’s Hygiene Promotion tent which is at the corner of the camp.

The sound truck parks up and people gather around the cleared space which serves as a stage for the rest of the morning’s activities. A couple of hundred people line up behind the temporary square barriers, little kids at the front, people at the back straining to see the action.

What happens next can only be described as a good old ‘dance off’. Volunteers from the audience – a young girl and then a couple of teenage boys – each proudly take a turn at being centre stage, wiggling and shaking with the crowd whooping and shouting along. Each is rewarded with a bar of soap for their efforts. Two or three of the hygiene promoters from the Haitian Red Cross then take their turns.

I’m enjoying the performance, watching quietly from the side lines, but to my surprise I suddenly hear the MC shout out for “Miss Liz” to take a turn. As it’s my first time in La Piste I’m being invited up! My initial attempt to decline politely falls on deaf ears and suddenly I’m on my feet, dragging Borry the British Red Cross Hygiene Promoter along with me. We make a joint attempt to ‘get down’ but it feels in comparison a pretty tame and awkward British style of dancing! The crowd were spared very much of this though, as we quickly stepped aside for the main event to begin.

The hygiene promotion team perform a humorous play addressing issues of good hygiene practice and the importance of hand washing and then the clowns go on to demonstrate through comedy sketches ‘how to’ and ‘how not to’ use a squat latrine. This includes things like not to put rubbish down the latrines, how to wash your hands after use etc. All this is interspersed with regular periods of music where the whole crowd dances along.

It’s clear that hygiene promotion issues are not the easiest subject to address, but woven within the relaxed atmosphere it’s easy to see how people are now warmed up to make them more receptive to hear some key messages. People are gathered simply to enjoy the music, watch the dancing and soak up the mood and it’s great to give them an opportunity to do that. It’s also great that they get to hear some important messages whilst they do!