Honduras and Peru: volunteers reach across borders to lend each other a helping hand

Published: 5 May 2006 0:00 CET

Susana Arroyo, International Federation, Peru

Across the globe, Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers are called upon each day to make personal sacrifices in order to help others. Trained to respond to natural catastrophes, dedicated volunteers, like Felipe del Cid of Honduras, are always on stand-by to support emergency operations both at home and abroad.

Felipe recently got a call from the International Federation’s Pan-American Disaster Response Unit (PADRU) in Panama. A rainfall alert had been issued in Peru and the Peruvian Red Cross was looking for a volunteer to help support families affected by heavy rains in the north of the country.

Felipe and his wife had been looking forward to a relaxed weekend in the Honduran countryside, while spending time with the daughter. But the call from PADRU changed all of their plans in a matter of seconds.

“I have a commitment to the Red Cross and traveling abroad is a part of that responsibility,” Felipe says. “It’s not about choosing between your family and the Red Cross…it’s about remembering that there are people who need your help,” he adds. “And there are also other National Societies out there that can take advantage of my support and experience.”

A year ago, Felipe was trained to be part of PADRU’s Regional Intervention Team (RIT) and since then, his mission has been simple: Be ready to support emergency operations and share his experience with other National Societies.

Felipe’s mission in Peru was his first outside of Honduras. Upon his arrival, he was met by volunteers from the Peruvian Red Cross branch in Tumbes, where he was asked to help around 1,000 families start down the road to recovery following heavy flooding in the region.

“Who would have thought that a volunteer from a small Red Cross branch like mine would wind up in charge of an emergency situation in another country?” he says. “I guess it doesn’t matter where you come from or where you go, the important thing is to attend to the people who need you and who trust us to help.”

For the next three weeks, Felipe helped develop a risk reduction training programme to prevent the spread of dengue fever and educate the public on how to treat water to make it safe. As part of his regional intervention duties, he also carried out damage assessments, managed budgets, distributed aid and even took pictures for the Peruvian Red Cross website. “Sometimes you don’t even know where to start!” he says.

The diversity of the roles and functions carried out by volunteers like Felipe make them key players during disaster response operations in the Americas. Because they work and travel across borders, they are also living proof of the solidarity and coordination between National Societies in the region.

Back in Honduras, Felipe continues giving back to the community by working with his local Puerto Cortes Red Cross branch. “After 12 years as a Red Cross volunteer I have discovered that my willingness to collaborate and help others is stronger than ever,” he adds. “So I will continue to work hard, share these ideals with my family and wait for the phone to ring again.”