Chris Hagarty and Stacey Winston, International Federation’s South Asia Regional Delegation
The second Saturday of September traditionally marks World First Aid Day – an occasion for health professionals and relief agencies, like the Red Cross and Red Crescent, to highlight the lifesaving importance of first aid.
This year, Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies in South Asia will use the occasion to recognise and celebrate the contribution that volunteers make towards improving the lives of communities throughout the world.
In addition to delivering lifesaving first aid and essential health care services during emergencies, armed conflicts and natural disasters, the Red Cross and Red Crescent’s immense network of millions of volunteers also makes a valuable contribution to the every-day health and well being of communities.
“Volunteers are the backbone and power of the national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies,” says Dr Sultan Mohammod Homayoun, Health Programme Manager for the International Federation’s delegation in Afghanistan.
“They play an important role in the community, providing first aid for basic injuries and illnesses at the village level, where access to health facilities is limited,” he says, adding that Afghan Red Crescent Society volunteers also work to improve the health and well being of isolated and vulnerable communities, through a variety of activities, such as health education and community awareness.
“This enhances the knowledge and capacity of remote communities to protect themselves, and reduce the incidence of common diseases such as diarrhoea and malaria, while promoting childhood vaccinations and maternal health.”
Afghan Red Crescent Society volunteers also work with communities on initiatives to prevent HIV/AIDS and associated stigma and discrimination, as well as on mine awareness education – an “extremely important” topic in a country that has been at war for over 24 years, says Dr Homayoun.
Volunteers also play an active role in promoting the fundamental principles of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement – humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality.
Leading by example, through the provision of first aid and other activities, which relieve the suffering of the most vulnerable, Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers encourage the communities in which they live to recognise and value humanity, through respect for all human beings, regardless of their nationality, race, religious beliefs, class or political opinion.
Mr Khem Raj is a Programme Manager with the Nepal Red Cross Society. He proudly states that Nepal Red Cross Society volunteers carry out activities in their communities to create awareness regarding the principles of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and also provide humanitarian assistance without any selfish motives.
“During the recent pro-democracy movement in Nepal, volunteers were mobilised to provide first aid services to the community and were responsible for saving the lives of many people,” says Mr Raj.
In recognition of their contribution to humanity, the 2006 World First Aid Day will highlight how Red Cross and Red Crescent first aid volunteers save lives without discrimination.
Throughout the South Asia region, five Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies will celebrate the contribution of their volunteers through activities at the national, state, district and community levels.
The Afghan Red Crescent Society plans to hold an official awards ceremony in Kabul to recognise the enormous contribution of their volunteers, and will conduct first aid demonstrations and competitions and health-related community theatre productions.
In Bangladesh, the Red Crescent Society will celebrate the spirit of their common mission by joining hands to create a human chain of volunteers across all 68 of their National Society units and will conduct public first aid demonstrations and competitions across the country.
The Nepal Red Cross Society will recognise the tremendous community contribution of its volunteers by holding gatherings and awards ceremonies throughout the country at which first aid demonstrations and competitions will be held and health information material will be distributed.
In Sri Lanka, the Red Cross plans to celebrate the contribution of its volunteers by holding events at three major centres, Colombo, Kurunegala and Gampaha, and will conduct nationwide first aid training examinations.
And the Pakistan Red Crescent Society is holding a number of events in conjunction with the International Federation in Banna, in Allai valley, an area devastated by the earthquake, which struck northern Pakistan almost a year ago. These activities will include a public gathering to inform local leaders about community-based first aid, as well as community theatre productions and a week-long first aid training course for volunteers.
Every-day, Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers across the South Asia region work to save lives and relieve suffering through a commitment to the spirit of humanity, which sees them provide first aid and contribute to community health and social development.
Their contribution towards building of a better, safer and more peaceful world should not be undervalued.