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Red Cross aid workers scattered worldwide this Christmas

Thursday December 23, 2010

From conflict zones to disaster zones, Australian Red Cross aid workers will be in the thick of it this festive season helping to improve the lives of vulnerable people around the world.

Forgoing the comforts of home and miles from family and friends, aid workers often work long hours with limited resources. Add to that safety issues and cultural sensitivities that can sometimes mean they don't have the freedom to go out alone. Yet Red Cross' aid workers wouldn't choose to be anywhere else; they say it's an enormous privilege to live and work in less fortunate countries helping people most in need.

This Christmas season, Red Cross aid workers will be making sure food and emergency supplies get through to displaced people in Pakistan and Afghanistan, running nutritional programs for children in Somalia, and helping with the ongoing recovery efforts in earthquake-ravaged Haiti. Below are some of the Australian Red Cross aid workers away this Christmas and who are available for interviews over the next few weeks:

Kerry Page in Afghanistan: The Queensland nurse and aid worker, who is three months into a long year stint, is spending Christmas in the Afghani city of Herat. She looks after the distribution of emergency supplies - including food, blankets, kitchen sets, clothes, soap and jerry cans - to those who have been displaced by conflict and disaster.

Kerry also supports local people set up and run micro-economic projects and helps the Afghanistan Red Crescent Society run its food for work program. 'Herat's a nice city with lots of history. It's cleaner than most, and is less damaged than Kabul. We are able to move around the city, but because of local customs I can't go out alone.'

Kerry has been on nine postings with Red Cross, including to Sudan, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka and Gaza, and has spent plenty of Christmases away from home. 'This year perhaps there might be snow, although Herat is not as cold as many places in Afghanistan. We have Skype, so will be able to talk to family and friends back home, and we will have a Christmas tree and secret Santa.'

Paula Fitzgerald in Haiti: This aid worker and Melbourne local is in Haiti helping with the ongoing earthquake recovery operations. The challenges facing Haiti, a country now also grappling with a cholera outbreak, and its people are barely fathomable, she says. 'Millions of Haitians lost loved ones, homes and livelihoods. Now some one million people are living in camps, grappling with sweltering heat in the dry season and torrential rain in the wet.'

Paula helps plan, monitor and evaluate the ongoing recovery efforts, keeping in touch with all Red Cross aid workers dotted around Haiti. 'If I do nothing else this Christmas, it will be to pause and be thankful for all that I have. The Haiti lesson for me is that everything can disappear in a moment, and to be grateful for the abundance in my life.'

Paula will be spending Christmas and the New Year at Red Cross Base Camp - an operational hub of tents set up near the Port-au-Prince airport. 'I've put my hand up to be a kitchen hand on Christmas Day and I'm actually looking forward to it. I rarely spend the festive season away from home, so I don't mind.'

Claire Davis in Pakistan: Claire, from Mildura in Victoria, is spending Christmas in the Pakistani city of Peshawar, which sits at the foot of the Khyber Pass in the country's conflict-affected northwest. Red Cross has its logistics hub in the city, from which it distributes aid supplies - including food, fertiliser, seeds and kitchen sets - to Pakistan and Afghanistan.

It's the 46-year-old's job to make sure those supplies get to people affected by war, conflict and disaster. 'I am the only expat here, and the only female - it's me and approximately 200 Pakistani men.' Peshawar has been troubled by violence and security concerns. 'Our main concerns are being at the wrong place at the wrong time when a bomb blast happens. There are over 80 expats here and we are restricted with our movements to the area where we live.'

Despite having many Red Cross missions behind her - including to Mongolia, the Philippines, Zimbabwe, southern Sudan, Darfur and southern Africa - Claire has always managed to be in Australia for Christmas. 'This is my first time away for Christmas, and I am not looking forward to it. I am one of eight children, so Christmas is very big and noisy, with lots of nieces and nephews.'

Hilary Floate in Kenya: The aid worker from Newcastle, NSW has spent Christmas in some pretty far-off places; from a displaced persons' camp in Sudan to a first aid ship off the coast of Sri Lanka. This year the 36-year-old nurse, nutritionist and public health expert, will spend Christmas in Nairobi, Kenya. Hilary runs nutritional programs for children under five and their caregivers living in south central Somalia - a country where many children under five suffer from malnutrition. Because of the country's instability and security concerns Hilary is based in Nairobi, making trips into Somalia every few months.

'For Christmas this year I am going to a friend's place - an Ozzie and Kiwi - for a BBQ. I spent last Christmas in Nairobi too, in the Ngong Hills. The year before that I was in Sri Lanka, before that Tanzania and before that I was in Darfur in Sudan.'

Media contacts:
For media enquiries or to arrange a prerecorded interview contact Red Cross media adviser Kim Batchelor on 0457 542 113 or