It's good to talk

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How many of you know a guy who actually likes to chat on the phone for ages? I’m guessing not many of you. That’s how I knew that the new FESS telephone support service we started was worth its weight in gold.

Traditionally our FESS team provided a crisis intervention service, which sounds a lot posher than it actually is. The fire service or police would activate us, we’d make our way to the incident, do the best we could and then leave. That was the end of our job.

Following a call out at the end of last year we’ve now extended the service we offer to include help over the phone. What this means is that we can offer comfort and advice to people at any time of day or night even if we don’t have a crew working at the time.

So how did it all start?

At about half past six on a winter’s night I took a call from fire control to ask if there was anything we could do to help a family who’d had a fire that day. The house was uninhabitable and though the family had relatives they could stay with they were very shaken up.

I wasn’t sure what help I could offer from the other end of a phone line but thought it was worth a try. It turns out there’s a lot you can do. The fire had been started by the two year old baby who had accidentally turned the hob on, setting fire to the shopping that had been left on top of it. More

Monday Movement update #5

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Here’s your weekly update on what different members of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement* are doing.

Philippines kidnapping: ICRC staff member Mary Jean Lacaba was released on 2 April after 78 days in captivity. Her colleagues Eugenio Vagni and Andreas Notter are still being held.

Italian earthquake: Italian Red Cross rescue teams were on the scene within an hour of this morning’s devastating earthquake in L’Aquila. They’ve set up a field hospital and mobile kitchens and are helping evacuate the injured and perform first aid.

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Can G20 bring new dawn in Zimbabwe?

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Zimbabwe was the first African country I visited – it was 1995, I was 21 years old and it fulfilled all my dreams of what I imagined Africa to be. It was pure adventure, from the hustle and heat of the capital Harare, to travelling across the country on red, dusty roads with people carrying all manner of things on their heads and finally the rushing waters of the Zambezi. I fell in love with the enormity of the landscape and its smokey dusk after brilliant sunsets – so different from what I’d known growing up in London.

Girls carrying buckets of water on their heads

Then there was the amazing generosity of the people. I was travelling with a friend and it seemed that everyone we met offered us an unexpected kindness, buying us meals, putting us up in their homes, going out of their way to show us around their country, of which they were so proud.

And so I’ve found it heartbreaking to watch this wonderful country trapped in a social and economic downward spiral. More

Mumbai: the great escape

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I hear that my ex-husband, Alex, has got engaged. I’m really happy for him, not least because the last time I saw him was on TV, looking shaken. He had just had a very lucky escape from armed gunmen, and was talking about his experiences to a news channel.

It was pretty surreal seeing him on screen as, at the time – November – I was in a hotel room in Dubai, on holiday. It turns out that he had got caught up in the terror attacks in Mumbai many miles away. I watched the screen, transfixed. He told a reporter how gunmen at the Oberoi hotel, where he had been dining, had taken him and other people captive and frogmarched them up the stairs towards the roof.

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You couldn’t pay me…

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A successful community fundraising formula for many a year has been the sponsored event. Millions of pounds are raised annually through this ritual, in a veritable smorgasbord of guises.

Sponsored events can be loads of fun but I can’t help feeling that some are more appealing than others. Here are four fundraising ideas I would not be first in line for: More

Monday Movement update #4

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Here’s your weekly update on what different members of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement* are doing.

Philippines abduction: The group that abducted three ICRC employees on 15 January have threatened to kill one of them today if their demands are not met. ICRC president Jacob Kellenberger is appealing to the group to release Mary Jean Lacaba, Eugenio Vagni and Andreas Notter unharmed immediately.

Crocs, snakes and hippos: As the Zambezi River floods north-east Namibia, villagers are having to fight more than the water to survive.

Nazir in a wheelchairPakistan/Afghanistan photo gallery: The ICRC has published a photo gallery of their work on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. See pictures and read stories of people like nine-year-old Nazir (pictured), who’s being treated at a surgical hospital.

Indonesia dam: Two days of rain burst a 100-year-old dam in Jakarta, killing at least 50 people. The Indonesia Red Cross has trained emergency response volunteers carrying out search and rescue, and handing out emergency relief items. More

Where will you take your next poo?

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Hilarious article today in The Times about the new intricacies of courtship in India – the message being given to men is: “No toilet, no bride.”

Except you delve a little deeper into the article and quickly realise this story is more tragedy than comedy.

Many countries are in the same position as India – where millions of people are forced to defecate in the open because they have no toilets. In fact three billion people – that’s half the world’s population! – don’t have proper sanitation facilities. Not only does this cause massive spread of disease, it causes humiliation and can be dangerous. More