Transforming lives behind bars in Mexico
Incarceration can be a bleak and isolating experience. But a new project by the Mexican Red Cross is providing detainees a unique opportunity to make a positive impact and find new meaning even within the prison walls.
“There aren’t many groups you can join here to help others” says Julian Gonzalez Moreno, one of the project’s participants who has spent 18 years in prison. “So, this is one of the few where you can really help someone.”
Sometimes that even means saving someone’s life. Participants in the programme recently recounted an incident where they successfully resuscitated a person who was suffering a heart attack – just eight days after receiving an updated CPR course.
The training is part of the Community Health and First Aid project that is being implemented various penitentiary centres across Mexico City by the Mexican Red Cross. By providing training and workshops on first aid, civil protection, and psychosocial support, the project equips prisoners with life-saving skills and empowers them to become first responders inside detention centres.
The programme challenges preconceived notions and helps reshape public perceptions towards prisoners. “The programme has also been beneficial in addressing the social stigma they might face,” says Jesus Enrique, a Mexican Red Cross volunteer and participant in the SPAC project who lives in Mexico City. “For us, it is important to share relevant information, and for the rest of the community inside the prison to see that they are trusted when it comes to providing first aid or helping others.”
Equipping inmates with life-saving skills
Raquel Jaimes, with 14 years of incarceration, expresses her gratitude for the training she has received. “Today, I know how to place a bandage on a wound, and I can do CPR. The Mexican Red Cross has taught me how to provide first aid”, she says. “I can now teach this to my children and to my grandchildren.”
The project not only imparts practical skills but also fosters a sense of confidence and self-reliance, project leaders say. Detainees learn to handle emergency situations such as heart attacks, injuries and accidents, ensuring that they are well-prepared to respond swiftly and effectively. For women’s prisons, the SPAC programme provides specific first-aid courses for new-born babies, given that mothers in prisons are allowed to live with their children when they are up to 3 years and 8 months old.
Saving lives and fostering change
The SPAC training extends beyond individual skill-building. It cultivates a collective sense of responsibility and compassion among inmates, inspiring a shift in mindset, according to inmate Julian Gonzalez Moreno. “When people realize that you care about them, without any self-interest, they start doing the same with others, and you create a domino effect,” he says.
This story was produced and originally published by the Red Cross Red Crescent Magazine. To learn about the Magazine, and to read more stories like this,click here.
"Lucky boy": Mother reunites with Myanmar Red Cross health worker who saved her baby's life
The two women in the back of the ambulance held each other’s hands tightly as the vehicle rushed through the night on the rough road to Than Phyu Zayat, Myanmar.
Late in the afternoon, the Myanmar Red Cross ambulance crew had collected a young pregnant woman from her home in Kyaik Kha Me Township, taking her to the local hospital as her contractions intensified. But with no doctor available they were directed to the regional hospital some 70 kilometers away.
With the baby in a breech position, it was going to be a difficult delivery for the 27-year-old first time mother, Moe Thuzar.
Public services had been drastically disrupted following the military intervention of February 2021. The combination of the political crisis and COVID-19 had put healthcare services – including maternal and new-born health – under severe strain.
Recently divorced and living with her widowed mother, Moe worked late into the pregnancy doing “Kya” jobs (random tasks at people’s houses) to make ends meet, and was often forced to skip meals as food prices increased sharply.
That afternoon when her contractions began, a Myanmar Red Cross volunteer in the neighbourhood took her to the local hospital. When they found there was no doctor there, a call for help was sent to take Moe to the next town.
As night was falling, Myanmar Red Cross ambulance volunteer Thi Thi Mon received the emergency call to transport the young expectant mother.
As a Red Cross veteran of 25 years, Thi Thi Mon quickly jumped into an ambulance to collect Moe from the local hospital.
The team rushed to the regional hospital but the doctor there didn’t have the facilities to deliver the baby, which was now blocking the birth canal.
He urged the ambulance to drive to Than Phyu Zayat township, Mon State. But, halfway between hospitals, Moe Thu Zar said that she could not cope anymore and begged Thi Thi Mon to help. The former midwife made the choice to deliver the baby there and then.
The baby was born in the back of the ambulance, his umbilical cord wrapped dangerously around his neck, but breathing.
“The baby did not make any sound at first, so I had to shake him a little before he cried out loud,” Thi Thi Mon recalls.
The team resumed their journey at top speed reaching the hospital in Than Phyu Zayat township in ten minutes. They provided oxygen to the baby and transferred the mother and child to a state hospital for intensive care.
“She named my boy as “Maung Kan Kaung” (Burmese translation: Lucky boy). I am grateful towards the Red Cross members who helped us. We are alive only because of them,” says Moe Thuzar.
“Since I was a child, I loved one of the Red Cross’ seven fundamental principles: humanity”
“I will never forget this memorable night. I believe if everyone gets First Aid training like I did, there will be fewer helpless people, ” says Thi Thi Mon.
From February 2021 to December 2022, Myanmar Red Cross First Aid teams have helped with the referral of around 12,833 patients. The ambulance service has helped more than 300 pregnant women and newborn babies to access emergency treatment. In areas where local communities lack access to medical facilities, the Red Cross has established First Aid Posts and community clinics where volunteer doctors and medical staff provide basic healthcare.
These volunteers keep the spirit of humanity alive.
To read a longer version of this story, click here.
| Press release
Sierra Leone Red Cross and IFRC respond to oil tank explosion tragedy
Freetown, Nairobi, 6 November 2021—Sierra Leone Red Cross teams are providing ambulance services; first aid and psychosocial support following a fire incident that killed nearly 100 on Friday night. To support Sierra Leone Red Cross teams to step up its emergency response, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is in the process of releasing money from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF).
The number of affected people and the gruesome nature of the disaster have posed challenges to response teams.
Kpawuru E. T. Sandy, Sierra Leone Red Cross Society’s Secretary General currently, said:
“The main hospital is overwhelmed, and families are struggling to identify their loved ones who were burnt or killed as bodies are badly charred.”
Sierra Leone has been hit by frequent disasters in recent years, including floods, epidemics, and fire incidents.
Mohammed Mukhier, IFRC’s Regional Director for Africa said: “This is a heart-breaking incident, for a country where memories of the 2017 tragic mudslides and the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak are still fresh. Over 100 patients are now being taken care of at different hospitals in Freetown.”
Sierra Leone Red Cross teams have responded to other major disasters in the past with the latest being the Susan’s Bay fire incident in March. The disaster left at least 7,000 homeless. Sierra Leone Red Cross responded by providing first aid and ambulance services, and IFRC released nearly 300,000 Swiss francs from its DREF to scale up the response operation. Sierra Leone Red Cross teams have also responded to the August 2017 mudslides that killed over 1000 people; and the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak that killed nearly 4000 people.
Through its 18,000 volunteers across the country, Sierra Leone Red Cross continues to play a leading role as a first responder to disasters and as a provider of primary health care.
For more information or to request an interview, please contact:
Swaray Lengor, +232 79 236196; [email protected]
Dr Ghulam Muhammad AWAN, +232 78 811 584; [email protected]
Camara Yusuf; +23279492611; [email protected]
Euloge Ishimwe, +254 731 688 613, [email protected]
The IFRC and our 191 Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are the world’s leading providers and trainers in first aid. Together, we trained more than 12.4 million people in first aid in 2022—empowering them with the skills to save lives.
Iran Red Crescent volunteer saves a two-month-old baby with his first aid skills
Morteza Beigi, the Iranian Red Cross first aid volunteer, recovered a two-month-old baby back to life and became a hero.
“I am used to check vital signs of every corpse brought to the cemetery to be washed and prepared for burial. This time, when the body of a two-month-old baby was brought to me, I remembered my two little daughters whom I love very much. I checked the baby's breathing putting my head on his chest and listened. I found out he was still breathing. The baby was alive!”
The baby had been transferred to Abdanan city for the funeral.
“It was around afternoon when my phone rang and I was asked to wash a dead body of a small baby. I left home to the cemetery. The body of a baby was wrapped in a white and blue blanket. While his family was taking off his clothes, I suddenly looked at his chest. It seemed it was moving,” he continues.
Earlier on the day, the medical doctors had diagnosed the cause of death as Congenital insufficiency.
Before working at the cemetery, Morteza, 31, used to be a plaster worker. He is also studying law atuniversity while he is working hard for his family.
“I had passed the Red Crescent first aid course in the provincial branch many years ago and knew first aid and CPR. The family of the baby was crying and I could not hear his breathing so I put my head on his chest. He was not dead.”
The family was told the baby was declared dead already in the morning.
“I remembered my two little beloved daughters as well as all the dead bodies brought here recently because of COVID-19. I felt with my blood and flesh how hard it is to lose our loved ones. I consider all human beings to be my loved ones.”
After finding out the baby was still alive, Morteza kept him warm with a blanket and started Cardiac massage together with CPR. He continued for ten minutes until the baby started to breathe properly again. Then he called the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) to get further help.
This time the story had a happy ending butMorteza tells he has faced also the grim effects of COVID-19 while washing the bodies. He has seen what it does to the people, and since the spring, he has been infected by COVID-19 already twice. Despite that, he says he keeps his mind positive.
Every year Iranian Red Crescent Society organizes different trainings from first aid to urban relief and rescue. This year due to the coronavirus pandemic, the organization moved most of the trainings online.
Empress Shôken Fund announces grants for 2020
The Empress Shôken Fund is named after Her Majesty the Empress of Japan, who proposed – at the 9th International Conference of the Red Cross – the creation of an international fund to promote relief work in peacetime. It is administered by the Joint Commission of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the International Committee of the Red Cross, which maintains close contact with the Japanese Permanent Mission in Geneva, the Japanese Red Cross Society and the Meiji Jingu Research Institute in Japan.
The Fund has a total value of over 16 million Swiss francs and supports projects run by National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to benefit their communities in various ways. The first grant was awarded in 1921, to help five European National Societies fight the spread of tuberculosis. The Fund has assisted more than 160 National Societies thus far.
The imperial family, the Japanese government, the Japanese Red Cross and the Japanese people revere the memory of Her Majesty Empress Shôken, and their enduring regard for the Fund is shown by the regularity of their contributions to it.
The grants are usually announced every year on 11 April, the anniversary of her death. This year the announcement is being published earlier owing to the Easter holidays.
The selection process
The Empress Shôken Fund received 36 applications in 2020, covering a diverse range of humanitarian projects run by National Societies in every region of the world. This year the Joint Commission agreed to allocate a total of 400,160 Swiss francs to 14 projects in Argentina, Bulgaria, Greece, Iraq, Lithuania, Montenegro, Namibia, Palestine, Panama, Sierra Leone, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, and Uganda.
The projects to be supported in 2020 cover a number of themes, including first aid, youth engagement and disaster preparedness. Moreover, nearly all of the selected projects seek to strengthen the volunteer base of National Societies, with a view to building on the unique role played by the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in communities everywhere. The Fund encourages new and innovative approaches that are geared towards learning, so that the broader Movement can benefit from project findings.
The 2020 grants
TheArgentine Red Crosshas launched a generational change in its leadership by promoting volunteers’ access to decision-making bodies. It will use the grant to design and build virtual courses, creating new spaces for dialogue and debate.
For years, the Bulgarian Red Cross has been a major partner of the State in the field of first aid, helping it to respond effectively in a crisis. The National Society will use the grant to reinforce its leadership position by introducing an online first-aid training platform that will facilitate theoretical learning and increase the number of trained first-aiders.
The Hellenic Red Cross seeks to empower local communities in vulnerable or isolated areas. The grant will go towards establishing branch and community disaster teams that will build communities’ resilience through activities and training around disaster risk reduction.
In Iraq, late detection of breast cancer is common and makes the disease much deadlier. To save women’s lives, theIraqi Red Crescent Societywill use the grant to train female volunteers who will raise awareness of early detection methods for breast cancer.
The Lithuanian Red Cross will put the grant towards an innovative digital platform for evaluating the impact of its first-aid courses, issuing and tracking certifications, and connecting with first-aiders after they complete their training.
Young people account for more than 80% of the volunteers of the Red Cross of Montenegro. The National Society will use the grant to improve its activities and services with the aim of strengthening youth participation and raising awareness of volunteer opportunities.
As Namibia’s population grows, first-aid skills and services are more in demand than ever before. The grant will enable the Namibia Red Cross to run intensive first-aid training and certification courses in ten schools.
To better serve the communities it works with, thePalestine Red Crescent Society seeks to build its staff members’ and volunteers’ capacities. It will use the grant to establish a computer lab as a continuing-education unit for all of its staff and volunteers.
In Panama, gang violence has shot up in recent years, and pollution continues to grow owing to a lack of public awareness. The Red Cross Society of Panama will use the grant to develop a series of activities aimed at promoting a culture of peace and environmental responsibility.
Blood transfusion services are an essential component of Sierra Leone’s health-care system. The grant will enable the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society to increase access to safe blood products, especially for pregnant woman and infants.
In Timor-Leste, 70% of the population is under 30 years old, but accessing information about reproductive health can be difficult, particularly in rural areas. The Timor Leste Red Cross will use the grant for a public-awareness and education campaign for young people on reproductive health.
The Tonga Red Cross Society will use the grant to improve students' access to health care and physical activity by using safer vehicles for transportation.
The Trinidad and Tobago Red Cross Society is exploring novel approaches to teaching disaster preparedness and increasing public awareness on the subject. The grant will enable the National Society to use virtual-reality technology to teach the public about the reality and impact of disasters.
In Uganda, 70% of blood donors are students, so the country faces blood shortages outside term time. The Uganda Red Cross Society will use the grant to develop its online recruitment of adult blood donors so as to counteract any seasonal shortfalls during the holidays.
Lebanon Protests: Red Cross volunteers continue supporting people in need
Since the nationwide mass protests started in Lebanon, the Lebanese Red Cross teams have been on the ground providing life-saving support to people affected. To date, more than 12,965 people have been assisted. To help the Red Cross to cope with the needs, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has released over 380,000 Swiss francs from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund.
The Red Cross has a country-wide network of around 12,000 volunteers, and a thousand of them have been mobilized daily all over Lebanon. The Red Cross teams have treated hundreds of people on the site of the protests, while more critical cases have been transported to hospitals.
Due to the unrest and road blockages, civilian cars have not been able to reach hospitals in many places. With 165 of its ambulances and other vehicles mobilized, the Red Cross has also provided medical transportation to hospitals to dialysis and cancer patients as well as others in need of urgent treatment.
“Since day one of the protests, we have been responding to around 3500 emergencies all over the country in addition to our regular, ongoing services. So far, we have supported around 8000 people affected by the situation. Our volunteers are well known and respected because of their neutrality, impartiality and commitment to serve humanity. We will remain on high alert and continue to support people in need”, says Georges Kettaneh, Lebanese Red Cross Secretary General.
The Lebanese Red Cross Blood Transfusion Centres have also scaled up their services. Over one thousand blood units have been provided and distributed to hospitals all over the country.
The Grenada Red Cross - Saving Lives
Mary Lewis is poised… It’s one of the first things that you notice about her, aside from other obvious physical characteristics like her bright, beautiful smile. That this young, ambitious Grenadian seems ready to handle anything that may come her way should come as no surprise, after learning that she has spent the last eleven years in the hospitality industry.
Her easy, self-possessed manner serves her well in her position as Supervisor ay the Blue Horizons Hotel, located in St. George’s, Grenada. It’s a trait that helped her to save the life of a guest of the hotel not too long ago. That and the first aid training provided by the Grenada Red Cross.
It was that training and her enviable calm that allowed her to recognise the signs of a stroke when she was called upon to assist a guest who was found unresponsive in the hotel in early 2019. In 2017 or thereabouts Mary, along with other members from varying departments at Blue Horizons, was selected by hotel management to participate in first aid training that was being offered by the Grenada Red Cross. The training which can sometimes be referred to as BLS or basic life saving took place at the offices of the Grenada Red Cross. There the staff members of Blue Horizons learnt CPR, how to deal with a stroke patient, how to use a defibrillator, the signs of a heart attack and how to deal with burns.
It was an ordinary evening at the hotel, Mary was following her usual routine preparing for the arrival of guests when she was called upon by her Manager to respond to an emergency. A guest had called and indicated that his wife was unresponsive on the floor of the bathroom. “My heart went down in my toe”, was how she described her initial reaction at having to put into practice all that she learnt because she was concerned about remembering everything. But when she arrived at the room her natural calm took over and she told herself, “you put on your brave hat now”. In fact, it was her presence that allowed the ill guest’s husband to also remain calm and answer Mary’s questions about his wife’s medical history. The couple’s eleven year old son also helped by providing details about their activities that day.
Luckily for that family, Mary was able to immediately make a number of observations about the woman’s condition: her inability to move one side of her body, the difficulty she was having speaking and the secretions coming from her mouth. She recalled from her training that she had keep the ill person alert and awake if they are conscious and she did that by talking to her until the ambulance came. Though the ordeal only lasted for forty-five minutes it is probably an experience that none of the parties involved will ever forget. The woman was flown via air ambulance to Miami and her husband sent word back to the hotel that she is doing ‘ok’.
“Good Mary, you did very well.” That is what Mary told herself when it sunk in that she saved someone’s life. She is glad and proud of herself that she was able to use the knowledge gained from the training to save the woman’s life. Her Manager is also very happy with her and probably with the investment made in the staff learning life saving techniques.
That was not the only person Mary saved, however, as she recently experienced a situation that hit much closer to home. She again put her training to good use and was able to save the life of a family member. Despite them residing in America, more that two thousand miles away, Mary was able to convince her stepmother to go the hospital based on a description given by her father. This description was given to her over the phone but she was still able to recognise the signs and urge them to seek treatment. At the hospital it was determined that her stepmother had indeed had a mild stroke.
Now that she has successfully utilised her training on more than one occasion Mary Lewis is confident that she is capable if called to act in an emergency, all thanks to the Grenada Red Cross.