Volunteers and specialists work in concert to build a cholera treatment centre

Publicado: 21 octubre 2011 12:00 CET

By Julie Garlenq in Chad

The raw materials have arrived, almost 20 tonnes unloaded in the middle of a patch of wasteland. The challenge is to set up a cholera treatment centre as rapidly as possible with its own water and electricity supply, and space for up to 65 patients. It seems like a daunting task; a symphony of challenges. But they did it.

‘They’ are six members of the French/Canadian emergency response unit (ERU) team, working in concert with around thirty Red Cross of Chad volunteers. Having discussed the score, each ERU member establishes their section, and – based on their respective areas of expertise – forms a team and takes charge of part of the site.

A conductor is needed, and this role falls to Bob, a Canadian medical technician, who is accustomed to emergency operations. He recently set up a cholera treatment centre in Haiti.

Everyone is in place, so the concerto can begin. 30 hours of relentless toil from dawn to dusk in the sweltering heat, everyone is hard at work, and the entire site is a hive of activity; people digging pits and trenches, erecting tents, putting up fences and installing water tanks.

Once all the elements are in place, they must be connected up and the electricity and sanitation systems tested. Then it is time for the final flourishes. Putting the pharmacy in order, preparing the treatment rooms, cleaning the camp, and making everything ready for the opening night.

The cacophony of construction ends, and despite a few difficulties and hitches, the centre is finished. With our exhausted workers taking a well-deserved rest, the medical team takes up the baton and receives the first patients. A beautiful piece of work that belies so much hard work.

Bob, aged 66, a fledgling ERU team member with the Canadian Red Cross Society

After recently retiring from a long career, spanning 35 years, as a company director,  Bob joined the Canadian Red Cross Society to begin a new adventure as a technician specialized in setting up emergency health care facilities.

He tells us, quite simply: “I have expertise and I’m available now, so I can help”. His goal is to use his expertise to help vulnerable people. And although he is not a doctor, he knows that his role as a “builder” is important.

Now, he regularly sets off on six-week missions, pursuing the same objective: to set up/take down emergency field health care facilities. He has become a specialist in the field, and his experience is very valuable to the Canadian Red Cross Society. For example, he has been to Haiti twice, to Pakistan and now to Chad. 

As a former leader, he is satisfied with the work accomplished during the mission, thanks to an effective distribution of tasks and the involvement of all the members of the team. The other team members hold Bob in high esteem: “Always the first on site and the last to leave, Bob works non-stop, leading his team in his Quebec accent,  never slackening the pace, always in a good mood and with incredible will and drive”.

He is not alone; he has his whole family behind him. His three children and five grandchildren support and encourage him, with the firm conviction that “Grandad saves people!” Bob tells us.