With his son Santiago always at his side, Juan arrived in Colombia in late October 2018 from Venezuela and immediately began looking for any kind of menial task to survive. After the searing heat of the Cucuta border town, the pair would walk miles of dizzyingly zigzagging roads, through the cold, rainy town of Pamplona, along sheer mountain passes and lush green valleys before luckily being given a ride across the freezing Paramo de Berlin – the most challenging section of the road to Bucaramanga.
Juan tells us: “Back in Valencia, I was a bus driver but, in the end, what I was making just wasn’t enough. I didn’t own the bus and when it broke down, it sometimes took a week or more to get repaired as there is a scarcity of parts. During that time, I wouldn’t be paid, and those periods became progressively longer.”
“We arrived in Colombia on October 31st, my birthday. Santiago had fever and we were not in a good way. I never thought I would ever walk so much.I picked up aluminium cans on the streets of Cucuta to sell for recycling for a few days to get some money, and I had to bring Santiago along with me as there was nowhere else to put him. With this money I managed to rent a room sharing with three other people.”
“We were travelling in a group for safety, but it’s also difficult– people have different speeds and sometimes not everyone gets a ride which splits up the group. It’s hard to stay together. Luckily, we got a ride across the Paramo. I heard that people die up there from the cold.
“One friend saw me carrying Santiago and offered to help me with my suitcase. But then I got a ride and he didn’t so now he has my bag with our clothes and the most valuable thing – my passport.”
“At one point, a truck pulled up and the driver said only women and children, so I handed Santiago to a woman and we met up later. Later I became a bit nervous. You hear rumours about children getting kidnapped here, but in the end he was safe. He asks for his mother a lot, who he hasn’t seen in two months.”
“Back in Venezuela I was working from early in the morning until late at night, so I didn’t see much of my son. Now, despite these adverse conditions, I’m still happy we can spend some time together. For Santiago it’s a big adventure, he even started to learn how to ask for rides on the road. He was my reason for leaving, and mymotivation to continue.”
For decades, the border town of Cucuta was a departure point for people escaping Colombia’s instability towards a new life in their eastern neighbour. Now the situation has reversed and each month over 50,000 migrants cross the border from Venezuela to Colombia, many carrying their last possessions on their back.
With no money even for a bus ticket most are forced to embark on a perilous high-altitude trek on foot for days through twisting mountain passes, sleeping under the stars in bitterly cold temperatures before reaching the city of Bucamaranga. Here are their stories.
Safety in numbers
Eighteen year-old Yusmil arrived in Colombia with her brother, and the two joined a larger group on the road for security. As a young female, Yusmil is usually chosen to seek a ride in a car or truck and take the group’s luggage further up the route while the rest of them walk, though without a phone between them, communication is difficult. Yusmil sheepishly explains that she has already spent the last of her money, the $10 she got from selling most of her hair to a barber in Cucuta. With the little she has left, she has made into a braid.
“I sold my phone back in Venezuela just before I left, which gave me money for a day or two and when I arrived in Colombia, I sold my hair. The hair cutters gave me 30,000 Pesos ($9) and I have spent it already on rent and food.” she continues: “We don’t know where we’ll sleep tonight, we’ll keep on walking until we can’t walk any more.”
“I met Jose and the others at the Divina Providencia shelter in Cucuta and thought it would be a good idea to stick together when travelling. I’m a bit worried because I heard some gangs assault migrants on the road, and I’m not looking forward to the cold weather of the mountains. We don’t have the right type of clothes.
We left Cucuta in a group of about twenty-five and tried to help each other out as people fell behind. In the evening, we found a kiosk where a woman gave us some cookies and water to keep us going. We walked for an hour more until we found an improvised shelter and the next morning we got up and just started walking again.”
Weaving their way in a new land
By the toll booth on the main highway stretching out of Cucuta, the sunlight glints off the yellow and green handbags dangling from the neck and arms of Jesus and Gabriela Campos. But these are no ordinary handbags. Rather than being made of leather, the raw material for these colourful and sturdy apparel is the currency from their native Venezuela.
Due to hyperinflation and government devaluations, the small amount of money that Jesus and Gabriela brought to Colombia could not buy anything, so they decided to convert it into a tradeable product.
The bags are composed of folded, interlinking rectangles (with denominations ranging from 1,000 to 100,000), all intricately woven by the artisan couple from the coastal city of Valencia. “We take the old bills and turn them into bags, wallets, chequebook holders and purses,” Gabriela explains over the rumble of passing cars and trucks. The Campos’ sell in different areas of town but the toll stop, with the nearby hot dog grill and roaming coffee vendors, attracts a ready supply of cars.
“Eight hundred bills make up one bag, which can almost buy you a sweet back home. Two years ago, you could do something with this money but now it’s not possible.”
Gabriela has a sick father in the Cucuta hospital, which sometimes takes her away from her day job, but she says that her young children are also learning the family trade from their small home in Villa del Rosario. At the moment it takes a whole day for them to make one bag.
A car slows down as a potential customer peers out of his window. Gabriela walks over holding the bags aloft so Jesus continues with his part of the story.
“When I arrived here, I was sellingarroz con leche(a traditional rice pudding) that would pay our rent of 20,000COP ($6) per day. Venezuelans wanted to pay me with our currency, one time someone even they gave me 90,000 Bolivares in denominations of 1,000, so I had a lot. I thought that these were going to be worthless shortly, so I might as well try to do something productive with them.”
“Back home I used to make ornaments with cigarette packs and paper from magazines and I thought if I can do it with those things, I can do it with the bills,” Jesus adds. “My first customers were some guys doing a charity bike ride, who bought two bags and ordered some more. We can tailor make [these products] depending on what size and style you want. Yesterday I woke up at six in the morning to come to sell the bags at the toll and didn’t finish until late at night.”
A medical migration
For five-year-old Samuel Garcia, growing up in Le Tigre, eastern Venezuela wasn’t easy, particularly because he suffers from West Syndrome, a severe form of epilepsy. At first, Samuel’s mother Emily took him each month to the Colombian Red Cross’ health centre in Cucuta for medicine and later for appointments with a paediatrician. Now, Emily is on the road to Medellin where a foundation is offering specialized support.
“When Samuel was one year old, he had a lack of oxygen supply to the brain, creating a lesion which led to this condition.” Emily says: “He can’t control his sphincter, and specialist diapers are not available in the country, so Samuel wasn’t accepted into school due to the complexity of his condition.”
Scampering around the shelter wearing a Spiderman t-shirt on a warm November afternoon, Samuel seems oblivious that he is in the middle of a lifechanging journey. But Emily explains that their decision to leave became urgent.
“As well as autism and problems with movement, he has convulsions and goes into shock. If the convulsions are not treated, they can leave him a vegetative state.”
Women sit in a circle in the courtyard as a nurse is splayed on the ground to demonstrate first aid techniques. Suddenly a man is carried through the front door in the middle of a violent seizure and the staff flock to his side.
Despite an impressive crowdfunding campaign by Emily (Samuel has an Instagram account) to raise money to import medication from Spain and the United States, this ultimately wasn’t sustainable so the two fled.
Emily says she’s been advised that she claim asylum in Colombia on medical grounds.
“We have passports but not residency in Colombia, so I want to regularise our status so Samuel can get into special school and get access to specialised healthcare. I was a chef back in Venezuela, but I can’t work legally while applying for asylum.”
The doctor across the border
Near the Colombian Red Cross health station in Cucuta, a constant flow of people passes over the Simon Bolivar bridge from Venezuela into Colombia. But not everybody plans to stay in Colombia.
Bianca Rodrigues’ son Alejandro is the last patient of the day to be checked by exhausted doctors and, after that, the family will make the hours-long journey back to their hometown of San Cristobal, Venezuela. Every week, Bianca takes her children over the border to receive healthcare and medicine that is unavailable back home.
“My son Alejandro is just ten months old and today he has a fever. He suffersconstantly from allergies that block his bronchi and that leads to respiratory infections. When he was two and half months old, I first brought him to Cucuta and he was hospitalised for 15 days.
I live in San Cristobal, just over the border in Venezuela but there are no paediatricians in my town, so I need to travel to Colombia every week. It’s a hopeless situation – there are no antibiotics, and a shortage of doctors to the point that they only attend emergencies. It’s only 40km away but the transport is very unreliable, and it takes a long time to cross the Colombian border as the police check everybody’s suitcases.
It’s my dream to move here but I don’t have any place to stay and day care is expensive. I also have two other children aged 5 and 3. At least in San Cristobal I have my mother who can sometimes take care of Alejandro and the kids while I work. I sometimes come to Cucuta to work as a street vendor selling cookies and that allowed me to save up a bit of money. But since Alejandro got sick that has become more difficult.”
“I never thought I would be in this kind of situation”
Behind Bogota’s main bus terminal, an informal tented settlement in the woods has spilled over into the nearby roads. Here, Brihan and his family have made their temporary home. Hundreds of migrants have constructed improvised shelters from scavenged materials and line them precariously alongside the roadside. The encampments are divided by train tracks so, occassionaly, a one-carriage locomotive chugs through interrupting people gathered around around small campfires.
“I’ve been here for five days with my family, but I don’t know if I want to stay in Bogota. I’m not sure what to do next. I heard Ecuador might be good but if I find work here, I’ll stay.
Back home I worked as gardener and cleaned swimming pools. I have three kids aged 8, 3 and eight months and we are giving them a few days to recover after the journey. It took us five days from the border. We only saw one shelter on the way but sometimes Colombians in their cars gave us a ride and handed out food.
My son has a fever. When we arrived in Bogota, we went to the hospital and they gave him an injection to boost his defences but in general, they only give emergency treatment for free, and the follow ups cost money. I came here with 2000 pesos (75c) so I can’t afford that.
I never thought I would be in this kind of situation and my children would have to see this, but there’s no other alternative. I heard that Ecuador offers free day-care, so we can leave the kids somewhere while we work, and maybe there is a better chance of access to healthcare.
I built this shelter last night with the materials our neighbours gave to us. Before that we slept next to the wall with a bit of tarpaulin. This is not a good environment for kids, there are rats here, people here fight all the time and some use drugs. I hope I can get better connected somehow and get a construction job and get them out of here.”
Luimer and Itza spent months pounding the streets for work and accommodation to set themselves up in Bucamaranga before they went back home to bring their two sons. Luimer is now teaching music at a church and Itza a domestic worker for a Colombian lady. After participating in the census, they have their residency papers, are in the process of enrolling their sons in school and hoping to gain nationality through Itza’s Colombian mother. Her experience reflects the overlapping patterns of migration in the region – Itza’s grandmother went to Venezuela decades ago to flee instability, and now her granddaughter is making the return journey.
LUIMER: "We are from San Cristobal, Venezuela, near the Colombian border. In my previous life I was a music teacher with 160 students. But then the economy took a downturn.
There wasn’t as much work as I was promised so when we arrived, we had to hit the streets, selling chocolates, washing cars, doing construction etc. I have done lots of things I never thought I would do. I could barely use a hammer before. Now I have a job at the Free Life Church teaching keyboards, drums and guitar.
In the beginning we were living in a room only about a metre wide. Now I feel that this is our family home, we decorated and set ourselves up, and we have a dog."
Every week the local Red Cross organises a social gathering for migrants. A lot of Venezuelans go into their own survival mode when they arrive and don’t always interact with each other so it’s nice to meet up to share stories and make friends.
ITSA:"I used to work at a café, on the minimum wage. Then, two years ago, this became not enough to survive.
A lot of people have left. My father is in Peru. My brother-in-law and sister are in Chile; friends in Ecuador, cousin in Panama…but my mother and sister are back in San Cristobal [Venezuela] and we left the kids with them while we set ourselves up here, which required a lot of strong will.
We like it here because it’s close enough for us to visit our family once in a while. My father has said that he can arrange some work in Peru, but I don’t know if I want to go through the process of moving again."
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.
On 30 March, the Colombian Geological Service increased the alert level of the Nevado del Ruiz volcano in central Colombia from yellow to orange, signifying a probable eruption in a matter of days or weeks.
While it is not possible to know exactly when or how a volcano will erupt, it is possible to monitor a volcano’s activity and take early action to minimize its potential impact on communities living nearby—which is exactly what IFRC network teams are doing right now.
Nevado del Ruiz is an explosive volcano. Its eruptions involve the fracturing of rock and rapid expulsion of gases and fluids—called ‘pyroclastic flows’—at high speeds and temperatures.
But there’s also one quite unique additional risk: as one of the highest volcanoes in the region, standing at 5000+ metres tall, it is covered snow and has a thick ice cap.
The concern is that this ice cap melts, as it did during the 1985 eruption when avalanches of water, ice, rocks, and clay ran down the volcano's sides, erasing the nearby town of Armero and killing more than 25,000 people.
To prepare for this risk, the Colombian Red Cross has activated its general plan of action.
This plan defines the preparedness actions they need to take in response to different levels of volcanic activity, including if the alert level changes from orange to red—indicating that the volcano is in the process of erupting or is going to erupt any time.
With anticipatory funding from the IFRC’s Disaster Response Emergency Fund (DREF), Colombian Red Cross teams have been working hard to get their volunteers and communities ready for the worst-case scenario.
They’ve been re-training volunteers in first aid, evacuation, and emergency coordination, and restocking essential emergency response items such as first aid kits, identification items for first responders, and emergency signal equipment.
They’ve also been sharing as much information as possible within local communities around Nevado del Ruiz: warning at-risk families to evacuate; talking to them about how and where to evacuate safely; and handing out radios and batteries to people in hard-to-reach areas so they can stay informed.
But some families are reluctant to leave and are dismissing evacuation advice from local authorities and the Colombian Red Cross. On the surface, this can be difficult to understand—why wouldn’t you want to move away from a volcano that’s potentially about to erupt?
There’s no simple answer. For the many farmers who rely on the rich volcanic soils surrounding Nevado del Ruiz, they may not want to leave their properties or animals and abandon the livelihood upon which they rely. Other people simply cannot, or choose not to, believe something as horrific as the 1985 eruption could ever happen again.
Right now, Colombian Red Cross, IFRC and partners are gathering in the region to step up preparedness efforts. This includes an increased focus on community engagement to understand people’s thoughts and fears and convince them to evacuate.
They are also preparing for, and trying to reduce the risk of, mass displacement should the volcano erupt. Through the DREF operation, they are taking early actions such reinforcing critical infrastructure, providing people with cash assistance, and pre-positioning food and safe drinking water.
We will share more about these vital efforts in the coming weeks. In the meantime, click here to read more about the anticipatory action funding we have provided through the DREF.
What are volcanic eruptions?
How the Anticipatory Pillar of the DREF works
Follow IFRC Americas @IFRC_es and the Colombian Red Cross @cruzrojacol on Twitter
Geneva, 18 June 2021 – Ahead of World Refugee Day on 20 June, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) raises the alarm about the situation of refugees who are facing severe humanitarian hardships, which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jagan Chapagain, IFRC Secretary General, said:
“Vulnerable groups, such as refugees, are paying the highest price in the COVID-19 pandemic. We are seeing alarming trends that show many refugees around the world are unable to pay for food or rent and are struggling to access health care and education.
“Refugees have been disproportionately affected by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and have often been left out of socio-economic support policies. A large number of refugees have lost their sources of income or depleted their savings and are now adopting negative strategies to survive.”
In Bangladesh, latest analysis carried out in refugee camps in Cox's Bazar by the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society – with support from the IFRC – reveals that communities are struggling to cover their essential needs, particularly due to COVID-19 related movement restrictions, health issues, restricted access to markets, and a recent major fire in the camps.
Price hikes in local markets and further displacement caused by camp fires have pushed many families further into food insecurity. During April and May, around 30,000 refugees in the Cox's Bazar camps raised questions and concerns, with 63% seeking services, including urgent food relief and shelter. Just over one third (37%) requested health or medical care.
In the past year, reduced presence of humanitarian organizations in the camps due to COVID-19 restrictions also led to an increase in child labour, sexual and gender-based violence and heightened risk of human trafficking. In addition, an increase in child marriage has been observed since the start of the pandemic, often seen as an alternative to education or work.
In Colombia, border closures, movement restrictions and loss of livelihoods led to limited
access to food and accommodation, with many refugees and migrants – most of whom are from Venezuela - eating only once per day. 18% of those surveyed by the Red Cross Red Crescent Global Migration Lab cited food security and malnutrition as the biggest risks for children during the pandemic.
In Turkey, a recent study – conducted by the Turkish Red Crescent and the IFRC – indicates that, among the 4,500 refugee households surveyed, debt levels have increased by nearly 50% over the last year. Even more alarming is the fact that many families are unable or can barely afford to pay for what they need most, such as food (72%) and rent (66%). However, cash assistance provided by the EU-funded Emergency Social Safety Net (ESSN) is helping refugees to cover some of these costs.
In order to cope with the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, refugees are increasingly relying on survival strategies, such as reducing food consumption, buying cheaper and less nutritious food, buying food on credit and borrowing money from relatives and friends. These strategies have negative consequences on health and well-being and contribute to worrying levels of food insecurity and skyrocketing debts for refugees.
“Nobody should be forced to choose between giving their family food or paying their rent; nor face hunger or forced evictions,” said Jagan Chapagain. “Governments should work together with donors, international and multilateral organizations, private sector and civil society to effectively mitigate the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on vulnerable groups, such as refugees and migrants. It's our shared responsibility to ensure that everyone can meet their most essential needs”.
 Households receiving cash assistance from the EU-funded Emergency Social Safety Net (ESSN) are identified as “eligible” in the Intersectoral Vulnerability Study, while those not receiving support are “ineligible”. In Turkey, refugees are officially recognized as “foreigners who are under international protection or temporary protection”.
In the Americas, Red Cross volunteers have proven to be the cornerstone for responding to communities in the region: carrying out inter-hospital transfers to COVID-19 patients in Mexico, working to rescue people affected by hurricanes Eta and Iota in Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, and more.
The International Federation has witnessed unprecedented humanity and goodness throughout 2020: Hundreds of thousands of volunteers have signed up to volunteer in their national societies, proving that even in these darkest times, there are incredible stories of hope.
Volunteering in times of COVID-19
In Mexico, more than 6,641 volunteers have worked in the response to the emergency created by COVID-19 in inter-hospital transfers, patient care, health education campaigns, and more in the 32 states of the country. In the relief area, many of the paramedic volunteers have decided to isolate themselves from their families, to continue helping in the emergency response, and avoid infecting their loved ones.
"I've been living in a rental house for three months with other colleagues," says Diego Arcos, head of the motorized section of the Mexican Red Cross. "I think the most complicated thing for us in caring for COVID patients is that you don't see what you're fighting against, and you don't see the end of it."
“I understand the desperation of being at home, the desperation of being locked up, but what we want is to go home, and we are only going to achieve it if people take care of themselves and follow safety protocols: wearing masks, washing hands, using antibacterial gel. If we all follow the instructions that are being put forth by the health sector, not just in Mexico, but also worldwide, we are sure that sooner we will be able to go outside or go home for us working in the response.”
Volunteers like Diego, during this pandemic, have made a selfless, supportive, and humanitarian effort to combat COVID-19: their work has been fundamental in education and prevention tasks, as well as in treating patients suspicious or positive.
Volunteering in Emergencies: Responses to Hurricanes Eta and Iota
Climate-related disasters have not stopped in times of COVID-19: 28 of the 35 countries in the Americas are classified as medium, high, or very high risk in terms of exposure to climate-related disasters according to the latest World Report from Disasters, and hurricanes Eta and Iota that hit Central America and Colombia in November, are an example of the risk in the region. Volunteers from the Americas have been an example of solidarity action in the response to the emergency caused by hurricanes Eta and Iota.
During the month of November, the tropical phenomena ETA and IOTA made landfall in Nicaragua, and then caused floods, landslides, damage to infrastructure, homes and crops in Central America and Colombia, with great damage especially in Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala.
In Nicaragua, more than 180 people have been volunteers in Operation Eta and Iota, supporting more than 33,000 people in the North Caribbean areas of the country: Prinzapolka, Bilwi, Waspan, Rivas. As part of the response to the hurricanes, the volunteers carried out tasks for the preparation prior to the impacts of Eta and Iota and humanitarian actions after the passage of both storms, such as: psychosocial support, water and sanitation, and hygiene promotion. In this way, the volunteers of the Nicaraguan Red Cross continue to demonstrate the true commitment of humanity in the movement.
“To help others, it is important to stay united, have a positive mind, be persistent and empathetic. We do everything with love and always committed to health for everyone,” explains one of the psychosocial support volunteers from the Nicaraguan Red Cross.
Volunteers in the Americas, and around the world, have witnessed unprecedented humanity and goodness: they are the engine of humanity, perseverance, and solidarity of the Red Cross movement in every corner of the continent.
For more information, visit the Volunteering Development Platform (VODPLA), where an interactiveVolunteering mapof activities and projects displays the humanitarian initiatives, activities and projects carried out by volunteers in the region.
Panama/Geneva, 14 December 2020– One month after hurricanes Eta and Iota hit Central America and Colombia, affecting more than 7.5 million people, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) warns that millions are still in need of immediate humanitarian support in what has become one of the most challenging disasters faced by the region in recent history.
The IFRC and National Red Cross Societies are currently addressing the most urgent needs of over 100,000 people through seven simultaneous humanitarian operations in Colombia, Belize, Costa Rica, Panamá, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras. The situation is especially severe in Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala, where more than 6 million people have been affected by heavy rains, floods, and landslides. In-depth damage and needs assessments are ongoing but results from all rapid assessments conducted so far paint a bleak humanitarian picture in both the short and medium term.
Felipe del Cid, Head of the IFRC’s Disaster Response Unit in the Americas, said: “Millions of people still need immediate humanitarian support: shelter, health care, psychosocial support, access to food, clean water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities. We are talking about a huge disaster, exacerbating an already ruinous combination of COVID-19, poverty and inequality in the region.These overlapping crises are making our operation one of the most complex we have ever mounted. The support of the international community is urgent to protect lives and livelihoods”.
On 8 November, the IFRC launched an Emergency Appeal for 20 million Swiss Francs to assist 75,000 of the worst affected people in Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua for at least 18 months. Currently only 58% funded, the appeal focuses on rebuilding and repairing damaged shelters, improving access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene facilities, addressing health needs, including COVID-19 prevention measures, and providing psychosocial support. The operation will also seek to address the mid-term consequences, such as the hurricanes’ impact on livelihoods and displacement.
“Eta and Iota have wiped out livestock, destroyedtools,harvests and farming areas, and impacted popular tourist spotsacross a region that was already facing an economic crisis related to COVID-19 and where the incomes of thousands of families had already been severely depleted. People are at risk of resorting to coping strategiessuch as selling their animals and properties,eating less food, andabandoning their homes to look for new ways of generating income”, added del Cid.
History has shown that hurricanes can cause displacement influxes as the loss of housing and livelihoods fuel unemployment and lead to increased movement of people to urban centres. Eta and Iota also represent a challenge for returned populations. InGuatemala and Honduras,some of the areas hit hardest have also welcomed large groups of returned people whose journeys have not ended in the way they expected. Figures on unemployment, poverty, and vulnerability were already high due to COVID-19 and will very likely deteriorate due to Eta and Iota.
Audiovisual materials including high quality B-roll and images available to download and use here.
The National Society Investment Alliance (NSIA) has today announced the National Societies to receive investment from the fund in 2020, with the Steering Committee approving Accelerator funding to:
The Colombian Red Cross Society
The Georgia Red Cross Society
The Mexican Red Cross Society
The Somali Red Crescent Society
The Co-chairs of the NSIA Steering Committee, Xavier Castellanos, Under-Secretary General for National Society Development and Operations Coordination at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), and Katrin Wiegmann, Deputy Director-General of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said:
“We are pleased to announce this second group of National Societies to receive support from the NSIA. We have selected National Societies responding to ongoing crises in some of the world’s major humanitarian emergencies, such as Somalia and South Sudan, as well as Georgia Red Cross Society pursuing an entrepreneurial response to the unprecedented global pandemic that we continue to face.
These investments build on those made in 2019, and we are already seeing how such funding can have a catalytic effect, such as in supporting the Lebanese Red Cross’ efforts to mobilize support in response to the double impacts of Covid-19 and the recent Beirut port explosion
As we begin to see the value of the NSIA on the ground, there continues to also be demand from National Societies thinking strategically about their development during unprecedented uncertainty. We call on our partners in the Movement and beyond to join us in expanding this important mechanism for supporting strong and principled local humanitarian action.”
The IFRC and the ICRC jointly manage the NSIA to provide substantial, multi-year development support to National Societies, especially those in contexts with heightened humanitarian needs. The NSIA helps strengthen the organisational and operational development and capacity of National Societies so they can increase their impact.
To respond to the varied development needs of National Societies, the NSIA can award up to one million Swiss francs of Accelerator funding to any one National Society over a five-year period. In addition, Bridge grants of up to 50,000 Swiss francs over 12 months can help National Societies prepare the ground for future investment from the NSIA or elsewhere.
To date, NSIA has been supported by generous contributions from the governments of Switzerland, The United States, and Canada.
Second Round of NSIA Funding
This second call for proposals received 49 applications from National Societies across all regions, with a range of contextual challenges and organizational development needs. The application process was adapted to take account of exposure to Covid-19 related risks and again involved an independent and objective process of consultation and review against the criteria, working with colleagues from the IFRC and the ICRC at the national and regional level, as well as National Societies themselves.
The selected applicants will undergo further due diligence steps, which in the case of Accelerator investments will include the Federation’s Working With Project Partners approach, as well as the meeting of certain conditions linked to their specific applications, such as securing sufficient co-funding.
Selected National Societies
The Colombian Red Cross Society will receive funding to build on the resource mobilsation work conducted under their ongoing Bridge Award, including individual giving and digital fundraising.
The Georgia Red Cross Society will receive funds to support the commercial production of sanitizer products at the national level. This funding is conditional on securing loan-based co-finance.
The Mexican Red Cross Society will receive funds to invest in systems for Planning, Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting, as well as learning, as part of their wider NSD strategy.
The Somali Red Crescent Society will receive funds for the redevelopment and commercialisation of their national HQ, as part of a wider NSD strategy, and contingent on co-funding.
The Lesotho Red Cross will receive funds for the development of a Resource Mobilsation strategy and investment plan exploring national level income generating activities
The South Sudan Red Cross will receive funds for the initial investment in IT capacities at HQ and branch level, to support remote management, and focused on longer term branch development efforts.
The Syrian Arab Red Crescent will receive funds to roll out a new approach to branch development.
By Melissa Monzon
“When should we wash our hands?” asks Sergio Gutierrez, to three children who have been listening to him very carefully. The children respond in chorus “Before eating, after going to the bathroom…”, one of the kids looks at Sergio doubtfully, and Sergio looks back at him as if saying You can do it. “…and after playing”, answers the little one with the pride that a student shows when he has learned the lesson.
These children, who are from Venezuela, have been participating in the recreational activities carried out by the Colombian Red Cross in the municipality of Puerto Carreño, capital of the department of Vichada, Colombia.
“We carry out close, pedagogical work with children, teenagers, expectant and nursing mothers, especially on the current issue that is COVID-19. Through recreational activities and characters, whether puppets or working with volunteers, we have been able to interact with families, to continue raising awareness and creating space for reflection on issues that meet the needs of the population”, says Sergio, a psychologist who moved from his native Bucaramanga to Vichada to take care of the Colombian Red Cross’ protective space, where children, teenagers and adults learn by playing, strengthening their bonds and providing them with a protective environment with actions focused on mental health and psychosocial well-being.
To get to Bogota, the country’s capital, from Vichada, one must make a trip by bus that will take two days approximately, with many transfers. Vichada is a department with many needs, and also a border crossing for those who migrate from Venezuela to Colombia, whether it is their final destination or transit through to another country. It is also a territory with a diverse ecosystem, crossed by the Meta and Orinoco rivers, with enormous cultural and social potential, which demands a comprehensive and sustainable humanitarian response, that guarantees collective participation for development.
In Vichada, poverty rates are high, and access to health services is scarce: the proportion of people with unsatisfied basic needs in the department reaches 67% according to the Colombian National Administrative Department of Statistics, and the situation of indigenous communities (many of them cross-border, and that represent more than 58% of the population) is worrying: only about 10% of the indigenous population in Vichada has electric power service, the aqueduct coverage reaches only 9% of indigenous people, and in general, health care services are very limited, directly affecting the quality of life in the area.
The arrival of COVID-19 has made the situation even more complex. Since April 2019, the Colombian Red Cross has been providing health care, nursing and psychology services, health promotion and disease prevention activities, as well as the delivery of free medicine aimed at migrants and vulnerable local population, as well protection services through the protective space. Now, during the pandemic, it is the only organization providing continuous ambulatory health services in the area, because the municipality hospital, temporarily, only provides emergency care.
For Jessica Teheran, nurse at the Vichada branch, what is more satisfying, beyond giving health care, is knowing that she is contributing to behavioural change: “We are not only providing medical or psychological care, but we are also teaching the new mother who does not know how to breastfeed, raising awareness of the elderly who may not follow their hypertension treatment, congratulating the future mother who even through difficult times has the desire to continue with her pregnancy. Being in Vichada and working with all of them totally changed my vision of the world, thus enriching my personal and professional life.”
Until the end of June 2020, the Colombian Red Cross – Vichada branch, with the support of IFRC trough the Emergency Appeal: Colombia Population Movement, has provided more than 27,000 health services, almost 10,000 of them in nursing services, more than 4,800 psychology services and attended to about 3,500 children and vulnerable population in its protective space. In addition, in each health care attention, patients received free medicine and participate in educational talks on disease prevention and health promotion, and themes related to mental health. Likewise, hygiene kits, prenatal kits, food kits, psychosocial support kits, condoms and hand sanitizers have been delivered. Finally, two hydration points have been installed in the department to provide access to safe water to anyone who needs it.
“The impact that the work has in the migrant population is evidenced on a daily basis in the medical consultations with grateful patients, since they find in the Colombian Red Cross, not only assistance, but also a friendly helping hand in this vulnerable situation to which they are exposed. For me as a migrant, it is a gratifying experience to be able to work with other migrants, to be able to offer them guidance or words of encouragement”, concludes Ligia Helena Gómez, Venezuelan by birth, and doctor of the population movement project of the Colombian Red Cross in Vichada.
*some shots of this video were taken before COVID-19 reached Colombia
In the middle of the “Parque del Agua” in Bucaramanga, Santander, it is possible to watch Colombian Red Cross personnel providing primary health care to migrants during medical days. Entire families come here to be treated. As they wait their turn, standing about 1.5 metres apart, they receive material and advice from National Society volunteers on what COVID-19 is and how to prevent it. This is one of the many activities the Red Cross is carrying out to care for people on the move, one of the populations most affected by COVID-19.In Colombia, tens of thousands of migrants (especially of Venezuelan nationality) decided to return to their countries of origin to face the crisis. Since the closure of the borders, nearly 60,000 Venezuelans have moved within Colombia.“The migration scenario has become very complicated,” says Marilyn Bonfante, Director of the Social and Humanitarian Development Unit of the Colombian Red Cross. “There has been an increase in unsatisfied basic needs among migrants, and there has been a setback in social and economic inclusion processes that had advanced significantly prior to the pandemic.”In addition, Bonfante states that the current conditions of mobility are high risk."Irregular recruitment of migrants has been detected and there are risks associated with border crossing on informal routes, especially in Ipiales and Nariño with average flows of 250 people per day".Despite the complexity of carrying out humanitarian work in the midst of the pandemic, Colombian Red Cross volunteers have responded positively to this reality. The National Society actively works in primary health care, psychosocial support, protection, humanitarian assistance and water distribution. And like other National Societies in the region and the world, it has had to adapt to working in an unprecedented context.With the intense work carried out, especially in border areas, nearly 40,000 migrants have been reached. The Red Cross provides primary health care through the use of mobile units, at fixed points and by holding health days in public spaces. A telephone line and a WhatsApp line are also available for medical orientation and psychosocial support. Also, protection spaces have been created for children and families who have required emotional support. In these spaces, recreational activities are generated and awareness of the disease and forms of prevention are promoted. In addition, to help provide basic necessities, food kits and cash transfer vouchers have been distributed to nearly 30,000 people.Given the conditions of the pandemic, special emphasis has been placed on protecting volunteers who are carrying out front-line actions. The National Society has made a tele-assistance line available to its staff and their families. In addition, it has created spaces with its 29 branches to provide support for the mental health and well-being of volunteers. This action has been very effective through virtual links with which 287 members have been reached so far.In recent weeks, the Colombian Red Cross Society has been working on preparing its volunteers and technical staff to strengthen the response in the field and increase the safety of volunteers during their work.
Luimer Guerrero arrived to Bucaramanga, Colombia, over a year ago with his two children, his wife and his mother-in-law on a bus that they took with the help of their religious congregation in Venezuela. Luimer undertook his journey full of dreams and expectations with the conviction that he would have new opportunities to reemerge in a country he did not completely know. And as if it was a sign, the first place they approached was the Center for Solidary Attention and Support (CASA by its acronym in Spanish) of the Colombian Red Cross. There they received information that would be among the most important for him and his family, the explanation on how to obtain the Special Permit of Permanence (PEP), a document that the Colombian Government gives to Venezuelan migrants. For Luimer, that was his first contact with a group of people he now considers a family and an "impressive" organization, the Colombian Red Cross.
After this, there were other opportunities; the Colombian Red Cross arrived with medicine and organized health days in the place where Luimer was living together with dozens of people. On another occasion, Luimer says that in the middle of a dental emergency, and without knowing exactly where to go, they approached the humanitarian institution and paid attention to them. “They helped us get to the nearest place where we could get help; I can say that whenever we ask for help we find a helping hand for myself and my family. ”
Music, a blessing of life
Today, this Venezuelan migrant is a music teacher thanks to the Red Cross staff who encouraged him to teach and to the people who met him and recommended him with his friends. He has 25 students among children, adults and groups of young people who are taught an art that makes their hearts happy and it is also the work that allows him to support his family.
Bucaramanga (Santander) has been for Guerrero a space in which he has been able to learn from Colombian culture and at the same time has been an opportunity to be an ambassador of the Venezuelan chords with which he grew up. Music has been and will remain a seal throughout his life.
Guerrero insists that to get ahead in Colombia and anywhere in the world you need to have an entrepreneurial mind. For this reason he has formed his StaffGL music academy, and thanks to his entrepreneurship he has been on several stages, one of them the Casa del Libro in Bucaramanga (Santander). His wife, meanwhile, is also working on an espresso coffee initiative. Luimer is hopeful and ensures that with effort and dedication he will keep moving forward.
The National Society Investment Alliance (NSIA) today announced the results of its first round of funding, with accelerator investments awarded to the Red Cross Societies of Lebanon and Ukraine, and bridge funding awards made to a further eight National Societies (Armenia, Colombia, Comoros, Malawi, Namibia, Uganda and Zambia). Together this represents a combined total of nearly 1.5 million CHF.
Announcing the results of the first funding round, Co-chairs of the NSIA Steering Committee, Dr. Jemilah Mahmood, Under-Secretary General for Partnerships at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), and Balthasar Staehelin, Deputy Director-General of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said:
“We are delighted to announce this first round of NSIA funding, the culmination of a process that has involved collaboration and cooperation from across the Movement, and demonstrates the demand and potential for investment in National Society capacity.”
To respond to the varied needs of National Societies, NSIA can award up to one million Swiss francs of accelerator funding to any one National Society over a five-year period. In addition, bridge grants of up to 50,000 Swiss francs over 12 months can help National Societies prepare the ground for future investment from NSIA or elsewhere.
To date, NSIA has been supported by generous contributions from the governments of Switzerland, The United States, and Canada.
First Round of NSIA Funding
The first call for proposals received 48 applications from National Societies across all regions, with a range of contextual challenges and organizational development needs. In response, the NSIA Office conducted an independent and objective process of consultation and review, working with colleagues from the IFRC and the ICRC at the national and regional level, as well as the National Societies themselves.
The Steering Committee agreed that the first 10 National Societies that will receive bridge funding are: Armenia, Colombia, Comoros, Lebanon, Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria, Uganda, Ukraine and Zambia. Lebanon and Ukraine will receive the accelerator funding in this first round.
The proposals from National Societies speak to a wide-range of needs, and are underlined by the desire to increase their sustainability, independence and ability to provide relevant services to vulnerable populations. Key themes across the applications include: efforts to increase financial sustainability, develop system and structures at the national and branch level, and improve governance and accountability.
Selected National Societies
The Lebanese Red Cross will use a substantial accelerator investment grant to strengthen its Project Monitoring Evaluation and Reporting (PMER), communications, and fundraising capacity with the aim of meeting more than 70% of its core services costs through local sources by 2023.
Similarly, the Ukrainian Red Cross Society will utilise an accelerator investment to develop its resource mobilization capacities, building on initial planning and analysis and helping the National Society respond to the ongoing crisis in the country.
The bridge grant will support the Armenian Red Cross Society to develop a resource mobilization plan, focusing on un-earmarked income generation that is urgently required to meet ARCS programmatic activity needs.
The Colombian Red Cross Society will receive bridge funding to help develop, test and implement new initiatives which will ensure regular income, strengthening the National Society in three crosscutting areas: communication and marketing, reporting and training.
There is a need for the Comoros Red Crescent to enhance staff core competencies with regard to governance and financial management. The bridge grant will therefore allow the development of an investment plan for the National Society to best use potential future investment.
NSIA bridge grant funding will enable the Malawi Red Cross Society to conduct a thorough and detailed assessment of potential national level income sources, subsequently developing an investment proposal to pursue the most promising.
It is expected that through the bridge grant implementation, the Namibia Red Cross will be able to resolve a number a of critical challenges by consolidating its financial statements and systems, increasing financial liquidity and developing a forward-looking strategy.
The Nigerian Red Cross Society will receive bridge funding to help explore the opportunities for developing commercial first aid services in the country, conducting a detailed analysis and developing a business plan for future investment.
The Uganda Red Cross Society will receive bridge funding to work with its operational network of 51 branches to consolidate and improve its first aid training, and explore the possibility to unlock this resource and generate national level income.
With several institutional changes needed within the Zambia Red Cross Society in order to achieve its development goals, a bridge grant will allow the ZRCS to undertake a midterm review of its existing strategic plan and developed and improved strategic and investment plan looking forward.