Howard Arfin awarded for decades of Red Cross service

Published: 6 March 2013 22:27 CET

By Enrique Guevara in Panama

What do you want to be when you grow up? This is the classic question which we have all either struggled to answer or are still pondering as the years pass. But not Howard Arfin. In grade four in 1958, Arfin joined the Junior Red Cross in Montreal, an experience that would eventually take him all over the world as an International Red Cross delegate.

Having served in various leadership positions with the Canadian Red Cross as a volunteer, Arfin applied for the international delegate programme offered by the society. He was subsequently approved for his first international mission after completing the Basic Training Course and what is now called IMPACT. His career as an international delegate began with an assessment mission to Ethiopia in October of 1991, in which he helped oversee the delivery of relief items. He later returned to Ethiopia on mission from 1995-1997.

Following Ethiopia and missions in Africa and southeast Asia, Arfin took up a post as the Communications Coordinator for the Tsunami relief and recovery operations in Indonesia for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). He then moved on to serve as the head of the Canadian Red Cross delegation for India, based in New Delhi, where he served for four years. Currently, Arfin is the IFRC’s Regional Representative for the Caribbean, a post in which he has served for the past two years.

“Throughout my Red Cross career, I have had the unique opportunity and honour to be a Red Cross spokesman. Apparently my ability to describe the work we are doing in simple and personal terms is able to draw attention to the work that we do,” Arfin says. “From the front lines of our relief and recovery operations, I have been able to explain through television, radio, web and print what we are doing and this has helped us mobilize more support for our work. This is a part of my responsibilities that I find incredibly satisfying.”

On 6 February Howard was at Roy Thompson Hall in Toronto to receive the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal awarded for bringing recognition to his native Canada through Red Cross activities.

“It feels great to receive this kind of validation, but I am just doing my job. It was certainly unexpected to receive this recognition.” Arfin says. Yet what moves him the most is the reaction from his family: “They are so proud and that is what is personally most important for me.”

And it is clear his parents have much to be proud of, as this is not the first award their son has received for his Red Cross work. Over the years, Arfin has  also been awarded the Order of the Red Cross, the Canadian Red Cross Distinguished Service Medal and the Canada 125th Centennial Medal for community service.

However, he also says he enjoys the process of giving out awards. “I appreciate the opportunity to recognise other people for the great work that they are doing for our Red Cross movement. Awards like these serve as motivation to continue doing the work.”

He says much of the work being done in the humanitarian sector often goes unnoticed, performed diligently behind the scenes around the world by millions of tireless volunteers. Nonetheless, Howard is quick to point out that when disaster strikes and the cameras appear, the Red Cross Red Crescent is usually a visible presence. This does not happen by chance. “The reason you see the Red Cross Red Crescent there on the front lines of disaster response is due to the ongoing training and preparations that we do. Our presence throughout the world is evidence of that state of preparation.”

Continuing recognition of humanitarian work is increasingly important but, Arfin says, although awards can be something to aspire to – medals, certificates and citations are not the motivation. It is the call of the humanitarian imperative that serves as his inspiration.