Health worker steps up to the challenge of disaster response

Publié: 4 février 2016 8:00 CET

By Joanne Baldwin and Kathryn Seymour, IFRC

Yacinta Julio Namacha is a project officer at the Malawi Red Cross Society in Blantyre.  Her expertise lies in community health, but when severe floods hit the country in early 2015, Yacinta stepped straight into an emergency response role thanks to training she received as a member of the Red Cross National Disaster Response Team.

When natural disasters strike, the need for staff and volunteers who are skilled in emergency response to support affected communities is immense. Often these staff must be brought in from outside the country. However, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has worked to establish National Disaster Response teams across southern Africa so that skilled staff can reach affected areas more quickly.  

Once the flooding started in southern Malawi, Yacinta was deployed to Chikwawa district to assist people who had been displaced. Many had lost their homes and livelihoods under the flood waters.  Yacinta was one of the first people on the ground, conducting needs assessments to determine what support was most needed.

“In Chikwawa, we went to the camps and sat with the people and asked them their problems and what they needed. The skills I got from being in [the National Disaster Response Team] assisted me in doing this during the emergency,” says Yacinta.

In 2014, Yacinta participated in National Disaster Response Team training that incorporated practical simulations of disaster situations. During the exercises, she learned how to conduct needs assessments, register beneficiaries, manage distribution of relief items, and plan for recovery. All of this knowledge was vital for her work in Chikwawa with the Malawi Red Cross Society.

After the needs assessment, Yacinta worked on registering and verifying beneficiaries in Chikwawa. She supported distributions and took charge of prioritizing vulnerable groups, such as pregnant women, the elderly, and children. Because of her training, she was able to direct other volunteers assisting with the emergency response to deal appropriately with vulnerable people.

“These people are vulnerable and they have already been affected psychologically. If you don’t treat them well, it means you are increasing the problem instead of assisting them. During our training, we learned how we can ensure their dignity is maintained,” says Yacinta.

Yacinta has since returned to her health officer position with the Malawi Red Cross Society, but she remains a valued member of the National Disaster Response Team. Her experience in Chikwawa, combined with ongoing training, helps ensure that she is ready to respond again should another emergency arise.