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Red Cross aid workers in the field for Christmas


Australian Red Cross aid workers will be helping out across the globe in disaster, conflict and development zones this festive season.

Tuesday December 20, 2011

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Peter Giugni will be setting up the ICRC's first regional office in Afghanistan's volatile Khost province.

A world away from the turkey and tinsel of an Antipodean Christmas, Australian Red Cross aid workers will be helping out across the globe in disaster, conflict and development zones this festive season.

At any one time Australian Red Cross has around 50 aid workers - skilled, experienced paid professionals such as nurses, doctors, nutritionists and engineers - working in countries as diverse as Pakistan, Panama and the Philippines. Australian Red Cross' aid worker program is partly funded by the Government's aid agency, AusAID.

Aid workers help ensure humanitarian assistance reaches the most vulnerable, whether it be food, water and shelter for communities cut off by an natural disaster or medical treatment for civilians caught up in a conflict. They are often faced with challenging, isolating and sometimes insecure working conditions, but they say the rewards of helping - and living among - those most in need are enormous.

These are some of the Red Cross aid workers from Australia on assignment this Christmas, and available for interviews over the next few weeks: 

Ann-Marie McCabe will be spending this Christmas in Gaza City, Occupied Palestinian Territory. Ann-Marie, who arrived in Gaza in March on a year long posting, runs food security and livelihood programs for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The programs provide agricultural and income support projects, such as cash for work schemes and small business grants, aimed at helping farmers living near the Israeli Security Fence, people with physical disabilities and those affected by the high levels of unemployment due to the closure of the Gaza Strip.

The Melbourne woman, who has plans for a traditional Christmas dinner with the other expats in Gaza, says it can be hard being away at Christmas. 'I miss my family and friends, the good vibes of the silly season. When I was in Afghanistan, obviously a Muslim country, for Christmas a few years ago, our colleagues were sensitive to the fact that we missed our families and did their bit to make us feel at home - we were given personal "Merry Christmas" cards, and they even got us a pine tree to decorate. So I'm not sure what to expect this year in Gaza.' Ann-Marie previously worked for Red Cross in Herat, Afghanistan, and in Cambodia with Australian Volunteers International and CARE International. 

Chris Howe will be in Haiti this Christmas. Chris, a retired builder, is involved in a recycling project which uses the rubble left behind by the devastating earthquake which stuck the country in January 2010 to make concrete products, such as pavers, drains, and steps. He's also involved in a livelihood scheme for local people, which provides training programs, access to finance and marketing. The Mildura man, who is based at the Red Cross Base Camp in Port au Prince, has been in Haiti for the last 15 months. He says he plans to spend his Christmas reading, cooking and gardening.

Operating theatre nurse Kass Keenan, from Brunswick, Melbourne, will be working in a hospital in Peshawar in northern Pakistan this Christmas and Boxing Day. The hospital, run by the ICRC, those from both sides of the conflict injured in fighting in Afghanistan and the Pakistan tribal areas. The patients are mostly men, but also women and children, with injuries from gunshots, landmines, and mortar blasts. Kass, who grew up in Perth, WA, has also worked in Cambodia, Ethiopia, the West and Gaza with other NGOs.

'My family are always away around the world, so it's not such a big issue to be apart from them at Christmas - we always try to meet up somewhere, so we'll have a belated Christmas in January. We're planning an orphans Christmas here in Pakistan too with the other expats,' said Kass, who has been in Pakistan since July.

Peter Giugni will be setting up the ICRC's first regional office in Afghanistan's volatile Khost province, one of the most conflict-affected areas in the country. The Sydney man will head up the new post from which the ICRC will help families who have been separated by conflict to keep in touch, run health programs for civilians and wounded combatants, visit prisons and detention centres, provide material assistance to civilians displaced by armed conflict, and work to protect civilians through confidential dialogue with those on all sides of the conflict.

Peter isn't sure what he will be doing for Christmas. 'We have a big job moving truckloads of generators and equipment to our new office, which began on December 15. If we're settled in, I'll try and come back to Kabul for Christmas.' He says Christmas doesn't figure much in Afghanistan. 'It's definitely one of the tougher times of the year to be away, and I'll be craving my family and friends. At the same time, it's an interesting experience to be away from all of the usual rush and celebration and to reflect on the past year in a very different setting.'

For media enquiries or to arrange a prerecorded interview email Red Cross media adviser Kim Batchelor or phone 0457 542 113.

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