Turkmenistan Red Crescent volunteers take road safety to heart

Publicado: 13 enero 2009 0:00 CET

Assel Tastanova, regional information officer, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Almaty

On a recent week day, in a hurry to reach their work place, certain citizens of the Turkmen capital Ashgabat ran up to a busy city centre street and tried to cross it several metres away from a pedestrian underpass on the right and a pedestrian crossing on the left. They were very surprised when somebody called out to them: “Don’t do it, please. Think about your life and health!”

Turning around, they saw a Turkmenistan Red Crescent Society banner calling to respect road safety rules. Nearby were three young boys and girls dressed in red, yellow and green T-shirts. “We are live traffic lights,” explained one girl. “And we would like to remind you why it is necessary to follow road safety rules.”

This public road safety campaign was organized by the disaster management department of the Red Crescent Society of Turkmenistan at the end of November. Young Red Crescent volunteers replaced their ordinary clothes with ‘traffic-light T-shirts’ and went out into the main streets, where the risk of road accidents is high because of heavy traffic and the proximity of public places such as bazaars, offices and schools. The bright image of these boys and girls attracted many pedestrians and after exchanging a few words with the young volunteers, people turned back and crossed the street where they should – within pedestrian crossings.

Humanitarian activities

These types of Red Crescent activities always include the participation of volunteers, who are the driving force of Red Cross Red Crescent humanitarian activities. The Red Crescent youth movement in Turkmenistan was founded in 1998 and celebrated its tenth anniversary this year. More than 1,260 young people from all over the country, aged from 14 to 23, have joined up.

Road safety is only one area where the talents of these young people can be successfully used in primary schools and kindergartens. In 2007 alone, they implemented programmes in about 50 kindergartens and more than 100 schools in different regions of Turkmenistan, and the figures are increasing every year.

Volunteers also work closely with people with disabilities, the elderly and young people being held in state detention centres. Young people communicate more easily with volunteers their own age, who find a common language to pass on prevention messages on tuberculosis, sexually-transmitted diseases, as well as alcohol and drug addiction, on a peer-to-peer level. In Turkmenabad, joint patrols of police and vulnerable youth are organized, in which Red Crescent volunteers participate, to advocate for healthy life styles. These have more effect than when only adult policemen talk to young people during the patrols.

Training newcomers

Some young people leave volunteering when they enter high school or start to work, but others stay with the Red Crescent for several years. Lena is a volunteer team leader in Ashgabat. She came to the Red Crescent three and a half years ago when she was still studying in secondary school. However, even now after graduating from school, Lena still participates in the volunteering movement and contributes to the training of newcomers.

“We consider Lena a permanent member of our working team. She is aware of all our problems and achievements and we always take into account her opinion on issues,” says the Turkmen Red Crescent youth programme coordinator.

“I like what I do,” says Lena. “I feel that people need my support. So, I think I will stay a Red Crescent volunteer as long as I can. We have many plans, many projects and many activities to fulfill our humanitarian  mission.”