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"Without volunteers, we wouldn't exist"

Friday 15 November 2013


Fatima Gailani, President of the Afghan Red Crescent Society, describes the society's important role in the lives of the people of Afghanistan.

Fatima Gailani has been President of the Afghan Red Crescent Society since 2004. A leader in a country where only some years ago women were not allowed to work outside their homes, Ms. Gailani well understands the challenges the people of her country face.

"Afghan Red Crescent Society plays an enormous role in the lives of the people of Afghanistan," says Ms. Gailani.

The society does extensive work across the country. From providing shelter, food and water after frequent floods, droughts and avalanches; to helping the country rebuild after a war that lasted more than 30 years; from supporting people affected by the thousands of mines still in the ground; to alleviating the pressures of extreme poverty across the country.

And the dedicated work doesn't stop there: "Children, thousands of them in Afghanistan are born with hole in their hearts and one surgery could fix it." Afghan Red Crescent Society funds hundreds of operations per year.

Dealing with so many challenges, Ms. Gailani says "it's not easy to set priorities".

"Luckily we have 42,000 volunteers all over Afghanistan and have access to 92% of our country which is unheard of in country like ours. They are very active and young," she says.

"Without our volunteers, we wouldn't have been successful in the world, and in our society where 70% of the work is done by volunteers, we wouldn't exist."

"Today the Afghan Red Crescent Society volunteers, they are sometimes the sole health worker in the area. Some are trained as doctors; they do midwifery and vaccinations. If in the field after a mine explosion, some volunteers are so skilled, they stop bleeding and take the person to the hospital."

Life as a volunteer in Afghanistan can be risky: "In the provinces, they do very dangerous jobs. Sometimes, in crossfire, they lose their lives. And then the next day, their brother, their sister, comes to become a volunteer."

Fatima Gailani is in Australia for the international meetings of the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement.