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Red Cross aid worker wins award

Noela Davies in Northern Liberia

Noela Davies at work in Northern Liberia.

Australian Red Cross nurse and aid worker Noela Davies says she is surprised and humbled by receiving the Florence Nightingale Medal, nursing's highest award.

The medal has been awarded to Noela by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), following her humanitarian work in many areas of conflict around the world. Most recently, Noela worked in the small country of Kyrgyzstan, bordering western China during conflict last year. Before that, she spent nearly two years in the Afghan capital Kabul, working on basic health care for the population.

Noela says she is very grateful for the honour of being named alongside 38 nurses from 19 countries around the world to receive this award, handed out every two years. The awards recognise exceptional courage and devotion to victims of armed conflict or natural disaster. The medals also recognise exemplary service or a pioneering spirit in areas of public health or nursing education. The award is 'a reflection on nurses doing this work in any conflicts,' she says. 'I receive this award on behalf of everyone, past and present, who does this work.'

Having worked in many countries around the world, Noela says one of the most fundamental things she has learnt is about showing respect for people. 'Cooperating and collaborating with national staff and communities makes a difference,' Noela says. 'We are a facilitator to assist people to get the work done, to implement the health program or dig a well. It's about sitting down with people, them coming up with ideas that are culturally right.'

Other countries Noela has worked in include Ethiopia, Kenya, Liberia, and North Darfur in Sudan. In these countries, some of Noela's work has been about evacuating wounded people from conflicts or evaluating people who have been tortured in prisons. Despite the trauma she has witnessed, aid work, says Noela, is hugely rewarding. From Brisbane originally, Noela currently works for the Royal Flying Doctors, based in the regional town of Mt Isa, Queensland. 'I was drawn to aid work in the early 1990s while I was on holiday with my family in Papua New Guinea. There I witnessed an immunisation program - that was my inspiration,' Noela says.

Australian Red Cross' Head of International Programs Donna McSkimming says: 'Noela Davies and her fellow Florence Nightingale Medal recipients are inspirations to us all in their efforts to help Red Cross fulfill its lifesaving mission.'

'Noela is a credit to Australian nursing, an ordinary Australian who has made an extraordinary contribution,' Ms McSkimming adds.

Noela says during a disaster, conflict or in times of peace fundamental rights need to be met. 'It's important to remember', says Noela that 'access to good quality health care and water is a minimum basic for everyone. Sometimes even if you make a small difference, that's a good thing.'