Torbjørn C. Pedersen, a goodwill ambassador with the Danish Red Cross, is currently travelling the world, aiming to visit all 190 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Travelling on a budget of just $20 USD per day, Thor is undertaking his journey without the convenience of air travel, something no one has ever achieved. While visiting the Angola Red Cross, Tor learns how the National Society is assisting in the current yellow fever outbreak, and the role it played in bringing new life into the world. To read more about Thor’s journey, visit: http://www.onceuponasaga.dk/.
The bus stops at the side of the road. A helpful passenger points through the window and indicates it is our chance for a toilet break. At the entrance to the facilities a man collects money. I put my hand in my pocket and look for change but the man points to the Red Cross emblem on my chest, smiles and says, "You don't pay here."
Many hours later, the bus rolls into Luanda, Angola's capital, a beautiful city by the Atlantic Ocean. This image, however, is diminished by the piles of garbage that are everywhere - more so than what is usual for this part of the world.
Walter Quifica is the Angola Red Cross’ Secretary General and, to my great surprise, he picks me up at our meeting point, the Red Cross headquarters, which actually isn't the headquarters anymore. Walter explains that they needed money and it was lucrative for them to rent out the building. The new headquarters is 25 kilometres outside Luanda. We start struggling our way out through the heavy traffic.
Walter describes how big a problem the garbage is. "It's a stupid problem and easy to fix. The citizens’ immune systems have been weakened because of all the waste around them. And that's a direct cause for the current yellow fever epidemic we are battling."
At the new headquarters, I meet the staff. We talk about the yellow fever epidemic. Walter tells me that if I been at the office a few days earlier, I would have seen thousands of people lining up for their vaccines.
By this point (April 2016), the Red Cross had already vaccinated more than 134,000 Angolans all over the country, in cooperation with the government. But that's just part of it. They also attend to filling out and handing out vaccination cards, along with carrying out an information campaign.
The Angola Red Cross has approximately 5,000 volunteers, all of whom have been hard at work during this outbreak. Walter is clearly proud of them.
Bernadino, who works in public health at the Red Cross, tells me of an old project with the Danish Red Cross. It is about a vulnerable population near a river which threatened their lives whenever it flooded. The project consisted of moving the population further inland. An alarm system was implemented and people were trained in new skills, giving them new income possibilities so they wouldn’t suffer from leaving the river, which had naturally been their main income. Bernadino assures me the project has been a success.
He also talks about malaria, distributing 250,000 mosquito nets, and the loss of blood which occurs in someone who has malaria. As a result, there is great demand for blood which makes donation campaigns very important.
Inglesia feels her work with the personnel database is equally important. She is trying to update the database so that everyone's qualifications are current, helping the organization to become more efficient.
Walter finishes with a sweet story. One day at the old headquarters, a taxi arrived at great speed at their front door. The driver helped a woman in labour through the door, turned around, and left. He obviously thought the Red Cross had something to do with doctors. Walter admits they still have some work to do to educate the public about their activities. Fortunately, a few older women in the office knew what to do, and a baby boy was brought into the world right there in the office!
Several weeks later a new taxi arrived with the new parents and their baby boy. They insisted the Red Cross name the child. Walter thought about it and replied, “His name should be Henry, after Henry Dunant, the founder of the Red Cross!" Several months later the parents delivered a birth certificate with the boy’s name. It was Henry.
It is a very good thing that we can comfortably say, "In Angola, the Red Cross is always present."