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Volunteers are advocates for compassion in challenging times

Opinion Editorial by Fathimath Himya, Maldivian Red Crescent's Secretary General on the occasion of MRC Day and World Humanitarian Day 2020

19 August 2020, MVT 16:33
Maldivian Red Crescent (MRC) volunteers. PHOTO: MALDIVIAN RED CRESCENT
19 August 2020, MVT 16:33

The Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 left in its wake unprecedented levels of loss that many countries in the region contended with, and the Maldives was no exception.

As a small island nation, the entire country was affected. We lost 82 people. People had lost their homes, livelihoods, and a sense of security. Islands lost their inhabitants to evacuations, leaving them desolate and empty.

In the midst of all the loss, damage and destruction that nobody in the country had ever experienced before, recovery work began. An influx of aid had come - food was distributed, facilities for water, sanitation, and hygiene were installed, shelters were set up, clothes were given, medical care and mental health support were provided, and the work towards building back was set in motion. Despite the devastation, people stepped up. Volunteers in their own communities rose to meet the needs of those who were suffering, and extended their help and support. This is where the story of the Maldivian Red Crescent begins.

On August 16th 2020, we celebrated 11 years of MRC. The National Society was formed with the recognition of the importance of having an organization that provides timely and effective humanitarian services in the country during times of need. It was through the dedication of many committed members, who since 2005 worked towards this realization of the National Society, that the MRC came into being. In 2007, the Interim Working Group was formed and focused on legal recognition through national legislation. The MRC Act was passed in the Parliament and was ratified in 2009. The MRC was formed through the virtue of a law and is legally mandated to respond to emergencies and disasters. The MRC is auxiliary to public authorities, but will remain independent, in providing humanitarian services, to those in need.

Maldivian Red Crescent (MRC) Secretary General Fathimath Himya. PHOTO: MALDIVIAN RED CRESCENT

The formation of the MRC officially took place on August 16th 2009. We gained recognition by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and became a fully-fledged member of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in 2011 as the 187th member, and became part of the broader international Red Cross Red Crescent Movement – the biggest humanitarian movement in the world. A significant part of all the work mentioned to arrive to this point was carried out by volunteers.

COVID19 and Volunteer Work

Over the years, if there is anything that has stood out clearer than ever, it is that volunteers remain an integral part of humanitarian work. This year, more so than other years, it still remains evident. Life for many people came to a grinding halt with the COVID19 pandemic, but for humanitarian workers across the globe this meant unprecedented levels of response work. People working on the front-lines, many who are volunteers, have spent endless days, weeks, and months, bringing assistance and relief to those who have been affected. Today, as we mark World Humanitarian Day, we commemorate the courage of these workers, and we celebrate the spirit of humanity. We recognize and are reminded of those who continue to risk their lives, to protect and save the lives of others.

Since the COVID19 response work in Maldives began in February of this year, volunteers have been active in providing support to implement various activities. One of the most crucial activities that began at the onset was raising public awareness concerning the disease. As part of risk communications and engaging communities, volunteers disseminated information within communities, to ensure that people had the correct information to keep themselves and others safe and to reduce the risk of the spread of COVID19. Our migrant volunteers also worked to ensure that everyone had access to this information and that language and literacy barriers were overcome – material was translated into multiple languages, information sessions were held, and door to door visits were organised, before the lockdown.

The lockdown brought with it added layers and dimensions for consideration – there were a number of demographics and their intersections, with their needs and unique vulnerabilities. All of this meant that the response work had to be scaled up and needed cross-sector collaboration, across the country. Over 500 volunteers of the MRC have been active in the COVID19 response. They have been working around the clock to support different areas of work. Though physically taxing and emotionally tolling, volunteers have ensured that the response work continues, whether its providing PSS, supporting the needs of migrant workers living through severe socioeconomic challenges by providing food and other basic necessities, transporting laboratory samples, operating phone-lines, creating communications material, and helping to keep track of data and information. Volunteers lend their expertise and knowledge, time, and energy towards response work, so that gaps can be filled and efforts can be strengthened.

Communities and Volunteer Work

14 million volunteers across the globe are part of the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement. A group of volunteers in a country can depict a glimpse into its communities. This is what we continually strive to achieve in the MRC. We believe that our teams of volunteers must include and equally represent those in our communities – women, migrants, young people, the elderly, persons with disabilities, and people from various backgrounds. It is through such inclusion that we can begin to better understand the diverse needs that exist, in and out of emergencies, so that we are better prepared, are able to respond to, and recover from crises. Working towards social inclusion also helps build social capital, strengthening connections between people and creating social networks, so that during times of disaster, people are able to overcome challenges and come out of it, together as a community. This is especially important when there are many people living in the fringes, in marginalized communities. True resilience is when everyone in a community, regardless of their background, can access help and recover better.

10 Branches across the country in 10 atolls make for extensive outreach in humanitarian work. It also means that there is a local presence within our islands. Community-based efforts and initiatives must begin there. With the people who live and understand the many complexities and challenges that come with living life in a geographically dispersed country. The MRC’s work is centred around the core concept of resilience – integrating the approaches of development work, humanitarian work, and climate action. To work towards this, bridging capacities and adding to existing local knowledge and skills help our communities to reduce disaster risks and to build resilience. Volunteers in MRC’s Branches and Units, for over a decade, have added immense value to better understand issues at hand, and to carry forward the necessary work to protect our communities.

Courage and Volunteer Work – Thank You

COVID19 has impacted our lives in ways we cannot fathom or imagine, and coming out of this pandemic will take acts of concerted efforts on all our parts, across all sectors. We must remain relentless and resolute in our work to protect those affected, especially the ones who are most vulnerable. Our priorities as we step into this “new normal”, must be more inclusive and must work towards reducing existing inequalities, so that nobody is left behind.

It takes immense bravery and courage to show up, especially when times are hard. Volunteers have demonstrated, time and again, the indomitable spirit of humanity – how despite having to stay away from their loved ones, the inherent risks, the fact that there is no monetary compensation, and the demands of humanitarian work and what it asks of you, that you can always help and be there for people and that it is incredibly rewarding. The MRC is able to have the positive impacts it has in our communities and carry out our essential work, because of volunteers. Volunteers are the advocates for kindness and compassion that see us through challenging times, and that see beyond our differences, so that our communities are more inclusive and understanding, reminding us of our shared humanity. Thank you.

We take this moment to offer our condolences to those who have lost their lives during this pandemic. We express our solidarity with the front-line workers who have left us and recognize their service to protect others.

Today, we thank the humanitarian workers who dedicate their lives to helping others in need, across the globe. Thank you to the volunteers of MRC, for embodying and upholding the 7 Fundamental Principles of the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement, core beliefs and values that make us who we are. Thank you for always showing up and for being there for those that need us the most, when they need us the most.

As we also celebrate MRC’s 11th year, we would like to thank everyone who has been part of our journey, and reaffirm our commitment towards providing humanitarian services impartially, neutrally, and independently, and to always put humanity first.

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