Caribbean and Latin American solidarity with Asia has no borders

Published: 19 January 2005 0:00 CET

Cristina Estrada

Powerful images and news stories of the Asian tsunami in December have stunned people across Latin America and the Caribbean, prompting an outpouring of support from a region that is traditionally a recipient of aid for its own natural disasters.

The Caribbean suffered four major hurricanes last year – the worst hurricane season in a decade – but Red Cross Societies in the region were so stunned by the impact of the tsunami that they were compelled to offer assistance.

A number of National Societies in the region have launched cash appeals to assist with the tsunami relief efforts in Asia, including Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Antigua and Barbuda, St Lucia and Surinam.

“Helping others is the Red Cross way of life. If one of our sister National Societies needs help, we are going to help them, no matter how far away they are,” says Dorothy Fraser, director general of the Guyana Red Cross.

Edmond Bradshaw, director general of the Barbados Red Cross, adds: “This is our small way of helping our brothers and sisters in Asia. We know that every bit they receive will be needed and we are glad that we can contribute in some small way.”

Caribbean countries are looking and reviewing their disaster plans following the hurricane season and the tsunamis.

Around Latin America, National Societies have launched cash appeals and opened bank accounts to raise funds. The Brazilian Red Cross has raised US$ 260,000, mainly from private donations, the biggest amount ever raised by the Society, according to Fernando Casanova, the Federation’s Sub-regional office coordinator.

Casanova says that National Society initiatives to raise funds for those affected by the Asia Tsunami means a big cultural change for the Red Cross in the region.

“Firstly, they are not seen any more as weak organizations that are only recipients of aid, but as organizations capable of raising their own resources. Secondly, it means that communications and trust with local communities has increased as a result of them having benefited from Red Cross programmes,” adds Casanova.

As an example of this, the Chilean Red Cross has begun a fund-raising partnership with the department store Falabella, in which Falabella is offering its network, call center and internet for public donations to Asia through the Red Cross. Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Panama, Peru and Venezuela are other National Societies actively fundraising.

Dr Abel Peña y Lillo, president of the Bolivian Red Cross, says the Bolivian Red Cross is looking for institutions, organizations and individuals to all channel their donations, each according to his means, through the International Federation.

“This initiative is a call of solidarity and seeks to raise funds to mitigate so much pain and human suffering,” he adds.