The turning point for a Red Cross volunteer in the Central African Republic

Published: 8 May 2015 9:29 CET

Nelly Muluka, IFRC

Edwige Marina is a nurse trainee in Bangui, Central African Republic and the lead psychosocial support volunteer of the Central African Red Cross Society. For six years, she has been at the forefront of many operations, and has witnessed many families being affected by conflict. Never had she pictured the same happening to her.

Things, however, took a twist in December 2013, when armed violence broke out in her community. places.

“We were marooned in the house for three days. On the fourth day, we learned that my younger brother had lost his life and his remains had been picked up by Red Cross volunteers,” says Edwige.

The family’s efforts to retrieve the body were futile because the whole place was under siege. Edwige made one last attempt and managed to safely reach the Red Cross health centre.

“I did not know what awaited me. Yes, my brother’s body was there, but there were also close to 300 other bodies as well. I quickly put on my Red Cross jacket and, being a psychosocial support trainee, I started counseling the affected families, forgetting that I had gone to look for my brother’s body. When I later tried to return home, I couldn’t reach it. My family had been displaced, all our household items were looted and the house destroyed,” says Edwige.

She went back to the Red Cross offices, this time as an internally displaced person. She found many other volunteers who had also been affected and who were showing signs of stress. Edwige took a lead role and started offering psychosocial support. As the conflict unfolded, she became more and more committed to volunteering, supporting not just those who had been displaced, but also victims of sexual abuse. It took a lot of courage to keep doing this while her own family was living in a camp and her brother’s life had been lost. Then one day, something happened that made her think twice about volunteering.

“A displaced persons’ camp had been attacked. I arrived there with other volunteers ready to respond. Bodies lay all over the place and I recognized several of them. I could not stand this. I walked back to the office which was home for me and many other displaced volunteers, removed my Red Cross jacket, and decided that I was done with humanitarian work,” says Edwige.

Three days later, she received a phone call from the volunteer in charge of response and first aid, who has also been displaced and whose commitment Edwige says is unequalled. He wanted Edwige to lead other volunteers on a response and psychosocial support mission. Edwige decided to go.

“When we reached there, I looked at the affected people and felt compassion. Having been displaced twice, they needed me ever than before. I took my position and began doing what I do best. From then on, I have never looked back. I have realized that volunteering is a calling, and once a volunteer, always a volunteer.”

Over the years, Edwige has worked alongside two delegates from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), strengthening her skills in order to train other volunteers. To date, at least 600 volunteers have been trained in psychosocial support, gender-based violence and sexual abuse victim identification.