Community health volunteers empower the young and old to help themselves

Published: 26 March 2012 16:00 CET

By He Lei in Shaanxi

As they sit chatting on low wooden stools outside 55-year-old Cao Fengju’s village house, occasional ripples of laughter break out when a Red Cross volunteer jokes with Ms Cao and her granddaughter. “Do you know where to stick this thermometer?” she asks.

Ms. Cao lives in Yingming village, surrounded by mountains, in south-western China’s Shaanxi province. After the 2008 earthquake in neighbouring Sichuan, which also affected adjoining parts of Shaanxi, both her son and daughter-in-law went to work in faraway cities, leaving Cao and her four- year-old grand daughter at home.
“In our village, there is only a small clinic with two doctors, and they are quite busy. The nearest well-equipped hospital is about a 45 minutes drive away from our village. Every time my grand daughter hurts herself or gets sick, I’m quite nervous. I know little first aid and it’s hard for me to take her to hospital without a car,” she says. 

“I’m eager to know what I should do if my grand daughter got sick, and when some accidents happen, I can do some simple first aid.  ”

There is a similar need from Yang Yuyu. Yang is 69 years old, and his wife Mu Yufeng is 67. They live on their own, as their children all work in cities outside their home region. There were no first aid supplies in their home, and the couple had no first aid skills. Yang said: “It’s good to get a health kit and a first aid kit from the Red Cross. All the items are very useful. The volunteer showed us how to bind a wound using a bandage and alcohol. Next time, if I or a family member gets hurt, I can help them without delay. The volunteers are easy to find, as they are our neighbours.” 

In Yingming village, 15 volunteers have been trained by the community based health and first aid project and are able to serve 300 families there. Chen Fengxia, one of the community volunteers, said: “I’m excited to be a Red Cross volunteer. I can bring the knowledge to neighbourhoods and help them stay healthy; in the meantime I acquired a lot of new useful knowledge such as how to prevent common illnesses.

“I just tell them one thing per one visit, because I’m afraid they cannot remember if I teach them too much. And if they want, I can come to visit them everyday as I live just across the street.”

Supported by International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the Red Cross Society of China launched this community-based health and first-aid project in 2009. Since then the project has trained 1,130 volunteers from local communities in four provinces – Sichuan, Shaanxi, Yunnan and Gansu – which were hit by the Wenchuan earthquake in 2008. Those local volunteers are bringing basic knowledge of disease prevention, first-aid, emergency preparation to their own communities, directly reaching 20,000 families.

“The strength of this approach is that it enables local people to take more responsibility for their own basic health and gain confidence once they feel empowered to treat simple ailments and injuries,” says IFRC East Asia delegation senior health officer Chen Hong.