Bolivia: crossing the country to save lives
by Melissa Monzon Santa Cruz, August 10, 10:00am. Magdalena gets ready for the arduous day. The situation room is activated. Today, volunteers and staff from the Bolivian Red Cross – Santa Cruz branch will be starting with the mission: to accompany the transportation of three trucks that will carry oxygen to different hospitals in the departments of Cochabamba, Oruro and La Paz. In Bolivia, cases of COVID-19 have been increasing in the last weeks, and in many hospitals, there is a shortage of oxygen. This is why this mission is so important. But it won’t be an easy one, there have been blockades in different parts of the country for days, so getting the caravan to its destination requires great coordination efforts. “The role that each volunteer has played in the operation has been very important, in dialogue with communities. Demonstrating the impartiality and neutrality of the organization and giving the population that confidence that the Red Cross was in a humanitarian mission.”, says Magdalena Choque, head of the team for the humanitarian convoy of the Bolivian Red Cross – Santa Cruz branch. “From the planning area we begun to develop the action plan, the security plan, the risk analysis, in accordance with the operation. A monitoring and logistics teams was activated, and a suitable and trained team was formed for this operation. Also, the monitoring area coordinated with the Cochabamba branch to give continuity to the humanitarian convoy”, she adds. Cochabamba, August 12, 04:00 am. Karla Vogt is awake early, monitoring that the transfer occurs withing security parameters. As the focal point of Safer Access, she ensures that the mission is carried out correctly, taking care of the safety of those who participate in it. It is already 17:00hrs., and the Santa Cruz branch is about to arrive at the meeting point to make the change with the Cochabamba branch; here, other volunteers and staff will take over to continue the journey until the oxygen is delivered to where it is needed. “One of the biggest challenges that we had was to maintain a constant coordination and monitoring; coordination with different organizations and government entities, to avoid subsequent risks. Demonstrating our humanitarian mission, and above all, respect for our fundamental principles, which allowed us to start dialogues and conversations at points of blockage.”, says Karla. “The branches and volunteers in the field have been able to adapt to the different changes, to a tense and difficult situation, and have been able to apply all the principles already instilled. The Bolivian Red Cross has been able to enhance these virtues in the volunteers and that is something very remarkable.” In total, there were more than 28 people, including volunteers and staff, who accompanied the caravan, throughout the six days since it left the city of Santa Cruz until it reached La Paz. The caravan transported 66 tons of oxygen, which supplied hospitals in different parts of the country. Coordination between five branches of the Bolivian Red Cross – Santa Cruz, Cochabamba, Chuquisaca, Oruro and La Paz – allowed that this to be achieved. It wasn’t an easy job, but everyone was convinced of the importance of the operation. “The volunteers and staff were the guardians of that key element to save lives at this time. I think we all had this in mind and put all the efforts, and all our hearts and all our knowledge and skills to achieve the goal”, concludes Karla.
A pause at the border before continuing their journey
By Melissa MonzonAt 3695 meters above sea level is Tata Santiago camp, located in the district of Pisiga, Bolivia, on the border with Chile. This camp was conditioned to receive the people who were returning to Bolivia, and who had to comply with mandatory isolation as a preventive measure, before continuing their way to their respective destinations within the country.The camp had a capacity of more than 400 people and was designed so that those who were there could access various services. There were approximately three thousand people who passed through the camp, in different shifts, from its opening almost three months ago, until its closure on Wednesday, July 1st.All the people who passed through Tata Santiago were on their way home in different locations of the country; some traveled alone, some with their families. Many had temporary jobs in the neighboring country of Chile, but in the context of COVID-19, they lost them, and because they didn’t have an income anymore, decided to return to Bolivia.Being able to communicate with their families became very important in the two weeks each shift had to stay in the camp. For this reason, the Bolivian Red Cross granted the service of restoring family links, which allowed people to be in contact with those they love during their stay in the camp.Inter-institutional coordination becomes a key factor in cases like this, and the Bolivian Red Cross knows it well. For this reason, they coordinated with the Vice Ministry of Civil Defence, for actions for the administration of the camp, and with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) for the management and coverage of basic humanitarian needs. On the other hand, in coordination with Civil Defence, the capacity of the camp could be increased so that the sheltered had a decent and safe standard of living. In addition, BRC also coordinate with the health system to attend the necessary cases.Finally, coordination was made with each new group that arrived at the camp, for the support in cleaning tasks and food delivery, as well as the co-habitation rules, such as the time of use of each room, and mainly, they underwent constant medical checks during their stay. A didactic room was stablished for the children, where they painted, played and watched movies. In this way, everyone collaborated for a good coexistence.The Bolivian Red Cross has also been supporting the administration of two other camps in the frontiers with Brasil and Argentina. Also, in the response to COVID-19, it has been providing health care and psychosocial support, disinfections services, delivery of food and hygiene kits, and information por prevention and care in Spanish and in native languages.
The importance of good communication in times of COVID-19
Information saves lives; and in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, where there has been an excess of information and false rumors, the Bolivian Red Cross has been developing different actions against disinformation, and to reach out with clear messages to the population. In times of isolation, social media become a great way to stay close to people, and to bring them relevant and reliable information. The Bolivian Red Cross has developed a digital strategy that includes messages presented in an educational way, and videos where volunteers provide advice on different topics such as new ways to greet, how to use masks, how to wash hands, among others. This strategy also includes a series of sessions broadcast on Facebook Live, which have been very well received, since they are not only a way to provide information, but also to listen to the population, and to be able to attend and answer their questions. The first transmission was Myth and Truths about COVID-19, which has reached more than 8,500 users, and which received a series of queries from the public such as “How to disinfect food?” “What care should be taken with a person with disabilities and the elderly?” “Can masks be reused?” and more; all these questions were answered on the broadcast. Since that first transmission, topics such as stress management or relaxation techniques for isolation times, domestic violence, and what comes after COVID-19, have been touched upon. “We consider that the use of social media helps us not only to be able to give information, but also to know what people are thinking, what are their main concerns and doubts around COVID, and this allow us to be able to adjust the messages, so that they can address those information gaps. In addition, it has been a way to involve volunteers who are complying mandatory isolation, and who can help from their homes. In this way, although physically distance, the Red Cross remains close.”, says Mariela Miranda, Head of Communications for the Bolivian Red Cross. But it is known that not everyone has access to the internet, for this reason, messages have also been broadcast through radio spots in Spanish, Quechua, Aymara and Guarani, in different parts of Bolivia. Also, volunteers have been spreading prevention measures in markets, such as hand washing and social distancing, using megaphones. “I want to thank the Bolivian Red Cross for all their work, for all their love and the effort they make, informing and educating us with all the information they provide, whether it is to protect, prevent, or follow a protocol regarding day-to-day health.”, says Ale Marin, one of the most active users in BRC social media. The Bolivian Red Cross is committed and will continue to provide information to all those who require it, in order to clarify doubts and questions of those who need it.
Empress Shôken Fund announces grants for 2019
About the Fund The Empress Shôken Fundis 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 15 million Swiss francsand 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 150 National Societies thus far. The imperial family, the Japanese government, the Japanese RedCrossand the Japanese people revere the memory of Her Majesty Empress Shôken, and their enduring regard for the Fund isevident inthe regularity of their contributions to it. The grants are usually announced every year on11April, the anniversary of her death. This yearthe announcement isbeingpublished earlierdue to the weekend. The selection process The Fund received 47 applications in 2019, 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 395,782 CHF to 14 projects in Bolivia, Cyprus, Guinea-Bissau, Iraq, Lebanon, Mexico, Mozambique, Sao Tome and Principe, Singapore, Slovenia, Suriname, Thailand, Ukraine and Vanuatu. The projects to be supported in 2019 cover a number of themes, including displaced people, disaster preparedness in vulnerable communities, and social cohesion and inclusion. 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. Going forward, the Joint Commission will continue to focus on innovative projects that are geared towards learning so that the broader Movement canbenefit from project findings. The 2019 grants The Bolivian Red Cross is currently working to address the issue of gender-based violence among young people. It will use the grant to set up a permanent programme for schools and youth organizations in order to conduct educational sessions, raise awareness, and provide support and assistance to victims of violence. Cyprus has become an important destination for trans-Mediterranean migration. Using the grant, the Cyprus Red Cross Society will train refugees and asylum seekers in standard and psychological first aid to enable members of the migrant community to help each other and relieve some of the pressure on the health-care sector. The Red Cross Society of Guinea-Bissau will use the grant to strengthen the resilience of coastal communities threatened by extreme weather. The funds will go towards drawing up an emergency action plan, building up stocks of relief items and training at-risk communities so that they can respond rapidly in times of need. In Iraq, displaced people and those living in remote areas have limited access to water, sanitary facilities and health care, which increases the risk that diseases such as cholera will spread. The Iraqi Red Crescent Society will use the grant to set up a health-education programme to raise children’s awareness of communicable diseases and the importance of personal hygiene. The conflict in Syria has significantly increased the number of refugees in Lebanon, which has put a strain on blood-related services in the country. The Lebanese Red Cross is a major provider of these services and will use the grant to enhance its ability to deliver them free of charge to all those in need. Hundreds of schools in Mexico were damaged by a major earthquake in 2017. The grant will help the Mexican Red Cross to set up a programme to prepare school communities for disasters and other emergencies, promote healthy lifestyles and develop skills to facilitate peaceful co-existence. Young people account for more than 70% of the volunteers of the Mozambique Red Cross. The National Society will therefore use the grant to strengthen its youth-oriented initiatives by running training camps and information campaigns, and setting up Red Cross activities in schools. In 2004, the Sao Tome and Principe Red Cross opened a social home for the elderly, which plays an important role in reducing this community’s vulnerability. The grant will allow the National Society to renovate the building and improve the services on offer. The Singapore Red Cross Society runs a large-scale programme to deploy volunteers overseas during disasters. It will use the grant to scale up the training programme for these volunteers, adding more specialized and in-depth training and team-building sessions to ensure the volunteers can work as effectively as possible. The Slovenian Red Cross plans to take an innovative approach to social cohesion by tackling hate speech and its consequences, with a special emphasis on hate speech against migrants. The grant will go towards a training programme within schools, designed to encourage students to become young cultural ambassadors and further spread the message. The Suriname Red Cross Society will use the grant to address disaster preparedness in vulnerable schools in Paramaribo. The National Society will help schools and communities to draw up disaster plans, deliver first-aid training to teachers, and set up and train school emergency brigades made up of teachers and students. The Thai Red Cross Society has a proven track record in conducting water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) activities in emergencies, through its widespread network of registered nurses. It will use the grant to scale up this campaign, as well as to create a WASH manual, together with general and menstrual hygiene kits. The armed conflict in Ukraine has led to a substantial rise in the number of volunteers working for the Ukrainian Red Cross Society. The grant will go towards a new, more sophisticated system for registering, managing and training the National Society’s growing volunteer base. People with disabilities are at greater risk during disasters. The Vanuatu Red Cross Society will therefore use the grant to improve and promote disability and gender inclusion in National Society projects and programmes concerning volunteers, recruitment, capacity building, participation and access.