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The young face of humanitarian aid

By the time they reach 18 years old, Philippine Red Cross wants its volunteers trained and ready for deployment in a disaster. AVID volunteer Danielle Naranjilla and her colleagues are working on an ambitious youth development strategy.


AVID volunteer Danielle Naranjilla (centre) watches while young Philippine Red Cross volunteers complete their first aid training.

The comatose 'victim' stifles a giggle as an intent-looking group of young Filipinos lift her off the ground in an unsteady blanket carry. It takes a few more tries, but they're soon working in perfect unison while their victim strives for a more realistic-looking state of unconsciousness.

Danielle Naranjilla breaks away from the group to explain why Philippine Red Cross is ramping up its first aid training for young people. At first glance, she looks much like the other young participants but the Western Sydney accent soon gives her away.

"We're going to be investing more time, effort and money in these young people. They are the engine room of Philippine Red Cross and our challenge is to revitalise the way we work with them."

One of the most disaster-prone countries in the world, the Philippines is battered by a chaotic mix of typhoons, tropical storms, floods and landslides. To help the people most affected by these disasters, Philippine Red Cross needs all the manpower it can find and, given that nearly half the population is aged under 25, young people are absolutely vital to its work.

Vanessa Alcantar is a national field representative with Philippine Red Cross, tasked with youth engagement strategy. "Oftentimes during disaster operations, young volunteers are given simple tasks such as packing and distributing relief goods, yet their great number can be maximised for rescue, health and welfare operations as well," she says.

"Disaster operations are getting more complex with an increasing number of victims. As a humanitarian organisation, we should be able to respond accordingly with an increased number of skilled volunteers."

Philippine Red Cross now plans to engage young people from elementary school to university, through age-appropriate training and activities. Once these young people reach the age of 18, they will have the foundation skills necessary for specialist training in areas such as blood donor recruitment, peer counselling and search-and-rescue operations. The ultimate aim is for teams of trained young volunteers to be quickly deployed when disasters strike. It's a mammoth project that requires training frameworks, protocols and operating systems to be established in 97 chapters across the country.

Enter Danielle Naranjilla, who is working with Philippine Red Cross through the Australian Volunteers for International Development program (an Australian Government, AusAID initiative). With a background in youth policy and the trade union movement, Danielle brings a wealth of experience in relationship building, policy and youth work.

Danielle works closely with Vanessa Alcantar and her fellow field representative Adrian Lopez. The team was initially tasked with a recruitment drive aimed at young people. After an analysis of internal structures and systems, they realised that the major challenge was retention and development of the current volunteer workforce; so the focus has shifted to creating opportunities for meaningful engagement with young people.

Consultation with Philippine Red Cross staff has opened a floodgate of ideas: from play therapy for children affected by disasters to junior lifeguarding courses for young people in coastal and flood-prone areas.

"Starting them young and developing a tailored training program for them will make them valuable to the long-term sustainability of our organisation and make us more responsive to the demand for manpower," Vanessa explains.

"The job is a whole lot bigger than I thought it would be and we're just starting to see the real potential," Danielle adds. "But the staff here know what they want to do and what needs to get done - they just needed someone to facilitate the process. So far my role has been about asking the right questions and then collecting their responses. "

For Danielle, volunteering in the Philippines delivers a mix of professional and very personal rewards. "I am Filipino by birth. Being able to come back to the Philippines to do this kind of work, with an organisation that is often at the forefront of humanitarian initiatives, affects me at a deep level. It has made me grow as a person and given me an opportunity to reconnect with my heritage."
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Photo Credit :Gunther Deichmann/Australian Red Cross