Honouring the "grandmother" of the Iraq Red Crescent

Published: 14 August 2003 0:00 CET

Ammar Thabit in Baghdad

Khairyah Al Maqdsi is the grandmother of all Iraqi Red Crescent Society (IRCS) volunteers. The 72-year-old, affectionately and universally known as “Mami”, joined the national society when she was barely out of adolescence.

Today, having devoted her life to helping others, this nurse is head of its first aid training department.

Now, Khairyah has been rewarded for her “outstanding courage and dedication”. Dressed in black, she smiles through the tears as she receives the Florence Nightingale award from the IRCS president, Dr. Jamal Al Karboli, and ICRC representative Keros Sereke.

"I have been waiting for this moment since 1949," she says at a ceremony in Baghdad, before recounting her 54 years of volunteerism in the Red Crescent, the nights she spent nursing patients in hospital and the smiles of orphans she cared for.

The Florence Nightingale Medal is awarded by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to nurses or nursing assistants of National Red Cross or Red Crescent Societies.

The ceremony also included the awarding of IRCS silver medals to volunteers from all 18 of the country’s branches. The medal was given to the head of each branch to symbolically honour the work and dedication of its volunteers. Al Karboli announced that the ceremony would become an annual event, held on 15 July each year, the anniversary of the founding of the IRCS youth department.

“I and the staff at headquarters feel proud to have such outstanding colleagues,” he said, “such people are the backbone of humanity.”

Aryan Abdul Wahab, head of the IRCS branch in Al Anbar was one of the 18 recipients of the silver medal. He and his fellow volunteers were active in the distribution of essential relief goods to vulnerable families after the recent conflict.

Besides implementing several free health and vaccination campaigns, the branch is now focusing on establishing a summer school in Al Ramadi, with training activities such as first aid and computer literacy.

The awards ceremony marked the beginning of a three-day general assembly of the IRCS, during which four additional members were elected to the IRCS five-member board. Representatives from the branches discussed the National Society’s statutes. "In the past, we were following orders, but today we are part of the decision-making process," Ahmed Ibrahim, a volunteer from the Baghdad branch, explains.

Management and leadership issues were also at the forefront of discussions. "In the past, it was forbidden to know this information. I believe it is so important that we know who is doing what and why," Ahmed adds.

Job descriptions, staffing, salaries and departmental activities are also on the agenda. "This is what we need to decide and agree on; these topics are the muscles we need to do our work," Ms. Sahar Saheb, the director of the Baghdad branch, says with a big smile on her face.

During these three days, a few more important bricks were added to the bridge being built between the past and the hopeful future of the Iraqi Red Crescent.

Related links:

Iraq: appeals, updates and reports
News story: Iraq Red Crescent rebuilds to deal with ongoing suffering
News story: Iraqi volunteers vote away the bitterness
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