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World Toilet Day: Red Cross joins the relief effort

In the past century, unsafe water and poor sanitation have claimed more lives than any other cause.

More than one billion people worldwide don't have access to safe water and more than two billion lack access to basic sanitation.

On World Toilet Day (19 November), Red Cross, in partnership with Caroma, worked to increase awareness of the devastating effects of poor sanitation, and promote and raise funds for Red Cross water and sanitation projects in South-East Asia.

Caroma has donated more than $200,000 to support these projects in Asia-Pacific, particularly in remote communities in East Timor, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. The projects have improved community access to clean water and toilets, and targeted health and hygiene through education, and the establishment of infant and young child feeding groups.

This year, to help increase public awareness of the issue, we staged an event in a Sydney park on the eve of World Toilet Day. On the morning of Friday 18 November, commuters were treated to the sight of Red Cross and Caroma staff members seated on lavatories, reading the latest water and sanitation headlines.

Dr Paul Byleveld, who has expertise in water and sanitation issues and has worked as an aid worker with Red Cross in Pakistan and India, acted as Australian Red Cross' spokesperson for World Toilet Day. Paul conducted a number of radio interviews, helping to spread the

Learn more about our partnership with Caroma or see photos and video of a sightseeing toilet making its way around Sydney.

Our Recovery resources are world class!

Red Cross has won three prizes in the International Association of Emergency Managers annual awards for resources that we have developed as part of our Emergency Services Recovery work.

The Communicating in Recovery guide was awarded first prize in both the Global and the Oceania Public Awareness Awards.

Another guide, Helping children and young people cope with a crisis - information for parents and caregivers, was awarded second prize in the Oceania Public Awareness Award.

These awards follow those awarded last year for the Recovery MP3 players which were awarded both the Oceania and Global division first prizes in the Innovation category.

Our thanks go to our funding partners on these projects, including Community Enterprise Foundation, Alfred Felton Bequest and ANZ Charitable Trustees.

The guides have already been used in Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia, and we are excited that our colleagues in New Zealand have also started using the Communicating in Recovery guide. Both resources were part of an offer of support to our colleagues in Norway, and to recovery workers in Canada following their recent fires in Slave Lake.

In the Field

Life on Ambrym Island

Donal O'Suilleabhain is a water and sanitation aid worker. He tells us about working on a project designed to deliver clean water year-round to communities on Ambrym Island in Vanuatu.

Ambrym is one of the less visited islands in Vanuatu, although the twin volcanic peaks at its centre attract the more adventurous and energetic tourists.

I spent four months on the island, working on a water and sanitation project in the west, where rainfall is lower due to the effects of the volcanic plume. Here, most people rely on rainwater collection for their supplies. During the dry season water levels in their tanks become very low and they use saline water for their cooking and washing needs, and coconut milk for drinking.

Life on Ambrym was pretty basic compared to my previous experiences. There is no electricity and no running water. At night, the roosters and dogs compete to see who can make the most noise and the rats run races in the thatch roof. However these minor inconveniences are easy to cope with and it was a pleasure to work in an environment where there are no AK-47s and locking your door is unnecessary.

The objectives of this current project are to drill 12 boreholes and install hand pumps, construct 150 VIP latrines, establish water and sanitation committees in each village and repair rainwater collection systems in six schools. The total number of beneficiaries is estimated at 650 people.

The project has had its frustrations, particularly the government drilling rig that was always arriving next week, but progress has been made and it is so satisfying to see the new latrines popping up all over the communities.

I spent four months on Ambrym, working on the project, and am due to spend two more weeks back there to hopefully finish up the activities.

Do you have a story to share? Email us at

Where in the world

Australian Red Cross currently has 58 aid workers on mission overseas:

Figures at 5 December 2011

Recent aid worker activity

Of these 58 aid workers, 40 have commenced their current placement since the last Upfront in September.

This includes 20 aid workers in new placements, while 12 delegates have undertaken advanced technical training, and six have either delivered or planned training. There are also two Australian Red Cross staff members on loan to other National Societies.

Red Cross aid workers have recently been busy responding to a cholera outbreak in Chad. Following on from Don Johnston's placement as Field Assessment and Coordination Team (FACT) Leader, Barb Ford took on the challenging role of FACT Health aid worker, and Ruth Jebb and Kym Blechynden are working with a French Red Cross Emergency Response Unit as Community Health Module aid workers.

Following on from her Beneficiary Communications and Accountability missions in Pakistan and Haiti, Caroline Austin is delivering Beneficiary Communications training to the IFRC South Asia Regional Delegation in Delhi.

Tim Lewis-Nicholson and Theane Theophilos, Francisco Montiero, Vicky Lin, Alex Murray and Yvette Spero have commenced their first placements, in Kiribati, Sudan, Vanuatu, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Haiti respectively. We wish them a great start to their aid worker careers!

Dave O'Meara has been busy delivering Shelter Technical Training to aid workers in Denmark, The Netherlands and the United States while also attending shelter strategy meetings in Switzerland. Kezia Brett and Vesna Zvonar are currently working as staff on loan; Kezia in Vanuatu and Vesna in Russia.

This is just some of the great work that our aid workers are currently involved with. If you have any stories from your experiences as an aid worker that you would like to share with your colleagues, email the IDVS team at

Spotlight on Jess Letch

Jess Letch is currently on a tracing mission with the ICRC in India. This is Jess' sixth mission, and we wanted to find out what inspires her, challenges her, and motives her the most, both professionally and personally.

Where do you call home?
I come from sunny Melbourne, the world's most liveable city. It's the ultimate town to come home to.

What motivated you to become a Red Cross aid worker?
I have an endless curiosity for the world, and I love learning about cultures and communities. Living and working in a community is the best way to see life through another person's eyes. In Australia we're lucky to have great education and professional training. As an evaluator, trainer and capacity-building aid worker, I have the chance to share my experience and enhance outcomes for beneficiaries.

What have been your greatest challenges as an aid worker?
The two years I spent in Africa were personally and physically demanding. I learnt a lot about my personal strengths and weaknesses. As Australians, we are - and I am in particular - pretty straightforward. This can be an asset and a liability. It's always a challenge to work to facilitate change with people who have a more nuanced approach to hierarchy, unspoken motivations and indirect methods of getting things done. People can find the more direct style refreshing, if delivered with good humour and respect.

What do you do in your time off?
In India, there are many options. Good food, great people, beautiful parks, and cheap tickets to incredible destinations just an hour or two from Delhi.

If you could design a perfect mission to utilise your skills and interests, what and where would it be?
I think I have found it. Evaluating the restoring family links program in India, I have the chance to work with Indian Red Cross Society and ICRC, apply my skills, work in the field, meet beneficiaries, problem-solve, reward initiative and design new approaches. I am working in a community composed of so many ancient and fascinating cultures that challenge my worldview every day.

What is the most memorable or incredible professional event you've witnessed in the field?
In South Ossetia, we were helping displaced people to locate their vulnerable relatives among burning villages - mostly frail, elderly, disabled and bed-ridden people. The looting and violence was untenable. Once we found them, we would transport them daily to their relatives in the safe zone. I will never forget the wail of despair that came from the elderly women as the bus drew away, knowing that their homes had been reduced to charcoal, and they would probably never return.

How do you stay healthy while on mission?
Being far from home is a physical and mental challenge. I stay grounded by cultivating friendships outside of the office, regular phone calls home and joining the gym.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
A journalist. But I got distracted and opted for philosophy and anthropology instead.

What's one thing you wish you were told (but weren't) about being an aid worker?
Just be yourself. Listen and learn.

What don't you leave home without?
The laptop. It's my portal to the universe.

What are you reading?
Shantaram, slowly, and The Economist, voraciously.

What are you listening to?
On high rotation: Regina Spektor, José Gonzáles, Angus and Julia Stone, Sia Furler. Oh, and myself playing the ukulele - badly.

Updates from Red Cross

Meet your Red Cross colleagues

Our delegate engagement survey last year revealed that many of you wished for greater opportunities to meet with fellow aid workers and Red Cross staff in your state.

In response to this, the International Delegates and Volunteers Services (IDVS) team is hosting a series of state-based events. The first of these have recently been held in Brisbane (29 September) and Sydney (18 November).

The Brisbane event was a great success, although numbers were limited as so many aid workers were on mission! The event was hosted by IDVS team member Mat Orr, and attendees enjoyed finger food and beverages in the bar at Rydges Southbank. Four of the attending aid workers were health workers - Barbara McMaster, Norma McRae, Penny Connolly and Francis Murphy. Other attendees included Kara Jenkinson, who is a Disaster Management and Program Management aid worker, and the Queensland International Humanitarian Law Officer, Katrina Elliot.

The Sydney event was hosted by Jill Carter and Julia Puccini and attended by eleven aid workers. Five health workers came along, joined by three water and sanitation aid workers and one each representing Restoring Family Links, Hospital Management and Corporate Support/Protection. Finger food and beverages were served at the Rydges in Camperdown.

Those that attended really enjoyed the event, especially being able to catch up with old mission friends and it was a great opportunity for new aid workers to talk to experienced aid workers in their field. All agreed that it was a great initiative and they were glad they attended.

Upcoming events

The next meet-up events will be held in the first half of 2012 in Melbourne and Perth, so keep an eye out for invitations to social events for Red Cross aid workers in your state. The evenings are an informal opportunity to connect with colleagues new and old and meet representatives from the Red Cross team.

For more information about upcoming events contact the IDVS team at at


Closing the Gender Gap
This research paper, recently released by the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID), highlights some achievements and gaps in effectively mainstreaming gender in the NGO sector in Australia. The report outlines some of the barriers to and enablers of good practice and offers practical recommendations and ways forward to promote gender equality in both policy and practice. Closing the Gender Gap can be accessed on the ACFID website.

World Disasters Report 2011
Published annually since 1993, the World Disasters Report brings together the latest trends, facts and analysis of contemporary crises. This year's report focuses on the growing crisis of hunger and malnutrition, with almost one billion people going to bed hungry every night and millions of children suffering the irreversible effects of under nutrition.

Publication of this report was supported by AusAID and Australian Red Cross. For further information, and to order copies, please contact Josephine Shields Recass at

Psychological First Aid: Guide for Field Workers
Released by the World Health Organisation earlier this year, Psychological First Aid is an invaluable resource for humanitarian and emergency response workers. The guidebook is intended for use by people who are assisting others who have experienced a distressing event or crisis. It provides a framework for supporting people in ways that respect their dignity, culture and abilities, and covers both social and psychological support. The guide can be accessed here.

Good Practice Review on Cash Transfer Programming in Emergencies
This report was launched in London by the IFRC and Cash Learning Partnership and you can watch videos of the speakers online.

Across the humanitarian sector there is growing recognition that cash and voucher transfers can support people affected by disasters in ways that maintain human dignity, provide access to food and shelter and help rebuild or protect livelihoods. This report looks at how organisations, donors and governments can use cash transfers to best effect. It synthesises existing cash transfer guidelines, centralises lessons from research and adds practical examples drawn from cash-based interventions.

For further information, please contact the cash transfer programming coordinator, Heidi Gilert at, contact CaLP at or visit the CaLP website.

IFRC Psychosocial Centre
The Federation's Psychosocial Centre offers great information and resources on all aspects of psychosocial support and includes information and tips on self care. Visit the Psychosocial Centre website to sign up to receive their e-newsletter or to download their quarterly newsletter Coping with Crisis.

Livelihoods Resource Centre
A Livelihoods Resource Centre is being established to help IFRC members increase awareness and use of effective livelihoods programming strategies. Hosted by Spanish Red Cross, a website will serve as the hub of the Centre's activities, and will be operational after the Centre's official launch in late 2011. It will serve as a "one-stop shop" for livelihoods materials, as part of a comprehensive approach to economic support programmes.

The Centre will seek to engage a network of livelihood practitioners throughout IFRC's members, and support them to share expertise, learning and program knowledge around livelihoods in all programming contexts. To subscribe to the Centre's quarterly newsletter, or learn how you can become more involved, contact

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