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In the field of dreams

Aid worker Carrie Gage's first mission took her to Vietnam to work with people affected by floods, learn from mentor Sharon Kane and realise a dream: to help people affected by disaster.

Carrie Gage's first aid worker mission with Red Cross took her to one of the most disaster prone regions in the world: Vietnam. Constantly at risk of typhoons, tropical storms and flooding, central Vietnam was inundated with water after heavy rains caused flooding in October 2010, leaving hundreds of thousands of people stranded and in need of help.

"The floods in these areas happen two or three times a year," says Carrie, who has a background in water and sanitation and works in environmental health. "Over 600,000 people were affected."

Carrie was mentored by Sharon Kane, Program Coordinator International Emergencies. "An important component of any emergency response is to reflect on the impact of the Red Cross work in the local communities. It was a great opportunity to do this with Carrie, and she was an enthusiastic and talented member of the review team," says Sharon.

"The fact that the Red Cross were able to put me in this mission with Sharon was an excellent opportunity," adds Carrie.

In the field, Carrie and Sharon visited the flood-affected local communes in two rural provinces. Alongside local Red Cross staff and volunteers, they monitored and evaluated the effects of Red Cross' work in the area. This included talking to people about the distribution of food, cash, and water during and after the crisis.

"The feedback from the community was very positive. It was a really great experience to be able to speak to the people that received assistance because of funding from Australian Red Cross," says Carrie. "The food distribution included noodles and rice and some communes commented that they received cooking oil and salt as well. These supplies were able to reach over 7000 households. And over 10,000 households received a cash payment."

Carrie says she has always been interested in overseas aid work and is inspired by others, like Sharon, who work in this area. She was also impressed by the Vietnamese Red Cross staff in the field and local communities, who experience regular flooding. They were able to provide positive feedback to Sharon and Carrie on the Red Cross response.

"Hopefully this is just the beginning," says Carrie of the work. Australian Red Cross has more than 100 aid workers, who support communities in over 30 countries around the world each year. As a first timer, Carrie was a valued member of the review team, and was able to learn more about monitoring and evaluation so that she can use these skills in future missions.

Sharon has been working internationally on both development and emergency responses for more than 12 years. "It is vital to make sure that we are most efficiently getting relief supplies to those in need and constantly improving the ways we work with partner agencies overseas. And this is why monitoring and evaluation is so important," Sharon stresses.

With the recent floods and cyclones that have affected Australia, Carrie says she will also be able to use the experience that she gained in Vietnam back home in her work with local government. "I think it's an excellent opportunity," Carrie says.

By Antony Balmain and Laura McKay

Photos: Vietnam Red Cross