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After a typhoon hit the province of Laguna, in the Philippines, Red Cross staff and volunteers distribute blankets and hygiene goods. Photo: IFRC / Yoshi Shimizu

Dear colleague

In this instalment of Upfront, we bring you the latest from Red Cross, as well as updates from the International Delegate and Volunteer Services team, and stories from your fellow aid workers.

We're thrilled to announce the upcoming trial phase of the Red Network - a new portal for aid workers. The Red Network is an online space for Red Cross aid workers to engage on issues of interest and practice. If you are an aid worker you should receive your invitation to join and test the Red Network in the coming weeks, and we hope you will find it to be a valuable resource.

Read on for the latest news from Red Cross, including updates on our emergency response work in recent months around Australia and our continuing advocacy work in international humanitarian law.

We also bring you stories from your fellow aid workers: Mike Denison talks about working with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) as a biomedical engineer in government hospitals in war-torn areas, and Samadhi Marr answers our Q&A about her life as an aid worker in Myanmar.

As always, we welcome your feedback and suggestions. If you would like to share your experiences with your fellow aid workers, please let the IDVS team know at internationalhr@redcross.org.au.

Yours sincerely

Robert Tickner                                
Chief Executive Officer 

Michael Raper
Director of Services & International Operations

News desk

Introducing the Red Network!
The IDVS team is trialing a new social network for Australian Red Cross aid workers. Called the Red Network, this platform is being designed with your needs in mind, and provides a new way for you to connect with each other.

We know that our aid workers - those currently on an overseas placement and those waiting for a mission - have a lot to share with each other, from both technical and personal perspectives. The Red Network will enable a community of aid workers to engage on issues of interest and practice.

The Red Network is a place for you to talk to other aid workers and access key resources. You can participate any way you want - ask questions, meet people, share photos and resources, or maybe help someone else get started on their mission.

When the network is live, you will be able to:

  • find other aid workers in your profession
  • search for aid workers on a map of the world
  • access HR mission documents in the resource library
  • interact online with other aid workers
  • post comments, status updates and photos
  • upload relevant resources for other aid workers in your profession
  • send private messages and chat with each other
  • start profession-specific discussions and communities
  • manage your own profile.

  If you are an Australian Red Cross aid worker you will receive an email in the coming weeks inviting you to join and test the Red Network. This is an exciting new tool for our community and we hope you jump on board!


An Australian summer of emergencies

In the past few months, hundreds of Red Cross volunteers and staff have been called upon to help the many Australians uprooted by natural disasters, both in the immediate aftermath of the emergencies, and as they begin the long process of rebuilding their lives.

The start of 2013 was a tumultuous time for Australians across the country, as heatwaves, bushfires and floods caused widespread destruction and tragically, loss of life.

Across Tasmania, more than 150 Red Cross people helped with the bushfire response, supporting approximately 3,000 affected people.

At the invitation of the Tasmanian Government, Red Cross ran the Tasmanian Bushfires 2013 Appeal to assist those individuals, families and communities directly affected. This appeal closed on 27 March 2013, but anyone wishing to support ongoing Red Cross work to help people prepare for, respond to and recover from emergencies, can donate at any time to our Disaster Relief and Recovery work.

Volunteers and staff also worked hard in evacuation centres in the Gippsland region of Victoria, NSW's south coast region and in Alice Springs following bushfires in nearby areas.

In the north-east, ex-tropical cyclone Oswald caused destruction along the Queensland coast with damaging winds, heavy rain, flooding, tidal surges and tornados in late January. Across southern Queensland, thousands of people were affected by the floods and destructive storms.

More than 100 Red Cross trained volunteers and staff provided personal support to thousands of people in twenty evacuation shelters along the Queensland coast.

Red Cross and the Queensland Government established the  Queensland Floods 2013 Appeal to assist those individuals, families and communities directly affected by the floods, tornados and storm damage.

There are a range of resources on the Red Cross website to help people understand what they may experience when recovering from disasters and what they can do to help themselves and others through these difficult times.

Advocating for a nuclear weapons free world
From the moment Red Cross' Dr Marcel Junod arrived in Hiroshima in 1945 and witnessed the devastation caused by a nuclear weapon, the International Red Cross Red Crescent Movement has been passionately advocating on this issue.

Australian Red Cross has been working to Make Nuclear Weapons the Target, and together with the Movement is calling for an international convention to make the use of nuclear weapons illegal under international law.

Recently, CEO Robert Tickner continued this mission when he addressed a landmark conference in Oslo, Norway, and addressed governments from 132 countries on the destructive impact of nuclear weapons.

This is the latest in Australian Red Cross's efforts to progress work in this area, following the success of our advocacy campaign, Make Nuclear Weapons the Target, the results of which were presented at the November 2011 gathering of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in Geneva.

We have also secured support across the Australian Parliament, with the Government, Opposition and Australian Greens backing the call by the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement for a nuclear weapons convention.

The international conference in Oslo provided a unique opportunity to ensure this critical issue is taken forward on the international agenda. It was the first ever global conference to examine the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, and we are proud to have been part of this historic moment.

In the field

Where in the World
Australian Red Cross currently has 50 aid workers working in 26 countries around the world:

As at 1 March 2013-03-18                                                      Map data copyright 2012, Tele Atlas, MapLink

Afghanistan (3), Cambodia (1), China (2), Colombia (1), East Timor (2), Fiji (5), Haiti (1), India (1), Indonesia (2), Kenya (3), Kyrgyzstan (1), Malaysia (4), Mozambique (2), Myanmar (1), Nigeria (1), Pakistan (2), Philippines (4), Samoa (1), Solomon Islands (2), Sudan (1), Switzerland (2), Thailand (2), Tonga (1), Vanuatu (3), Vietnam (1), Yemen (1).


Aid work profile: Caring in conflict
Communities in war-torn areas often have limited or non-existent medical facilities. Mike Denison (pictured, at left) works with the ICRC in government hospitals in war-torn areas as a health aid worker, training staff and fixing medical equipment, producing or sourcing better treatment to save lives.

As a healthcare worker Mike visits countries that have experienced extended periods of conflict and where the medical services have suffered; most recently, he has worked with medical teams in Gaza and Afghanistan.

"The thing I like about doing this sort of work is seeing the improvements to the hospital, seeing the way equipment is available for treating patients and seeing staff able to use this equipment," says Mike. "It really makes me smile."

Mike is one of three biomedical engineers now working with ICRC around the world and was sent to Gaza on a one year placement in 2008. He recounts the positive contributions made by all sides, the different groups of Palestinians and Israelis. In contexts such as this, the Fundamental Principle of impartiality - not discriminating on the basis of culture, religion or other beliefs - is critical to success.

In 2009 Mike took on a role in another country divided by ethnic groups and religious beliefs. For two months, Mike was based in the hospital for war-wounded in Kandahar, Afghanistan, working in a technical role that involved repairing and installing equipment and training staff.

"I repaired an incubator which keeps a baby warm if it's born prematurely," says Mike. "I remember going into that room and seeing the incubator with a baby in it and the mother beside it, happy because her child is now warm. Being able to help to deliver health care in those circumstances is really rewarding."

Mike is back in Australia for now, working with Australian Red Cross in the International Program team as Program Coordinator for China and Indonesia. He has been on seven international missions with Red Cross and says he would love to see an increase in the number of biomedical engineers working with the ICRC.

"I think it has potential," he says. "There are a lot of countries that have extended periods of conflict and their health services have been deteriorating during that time. The work is very rewarding and it's a great part of professional development. I learn as much as I teach when I go away."


Spotlight on… Samadhi Marr
Name: Samadhi Marr
Country:  Myanmar
Profile: Program Advisor
Duration: Jan 2012 - current

What items do you never leave home without?
Gastrolyte, tea tree oil and my mala.

How many missions have you completed? Where?
This is my first mission with Australian Red Cross, but I have worked in Myanmar before with other agencies, and also in Pakistan and Costa Rica.

What's your best advice for a first time aid worker?
Treat it as an adventure and if you achieve half of what you hoped you would when you started - you're doing pretty well!

What does your daily role involve?
There seems to be a lot of emailing and report writing lately, but I also facilitate trainings, workshops and travel to the field every couple of months focusing on health and restoring family links.

What's the most unusual event you have experienced or food you have eaten on mission?
I bought a cheesecake for a Myanmar friend's birthday, and was horrified to find sponge cake with cream and grated cheddar cheese inside. The funniest thing was that I ate it! It was disgusting!

What do you miss most from home?
Australian air - there is a smell and freshness that I miss and of course my family and friends.

What is the most satisfying aspect of your current mission?
Being in Myanmar during a time of immense change and transformation - things are literally changing in front of my eyes.

What has been the most interesting cultural experience you have had on mission?
Last weekend I attended the first ever international open air concert in Myanmar for MTV EXIT anti human trafficking; 70,000 people attending a historic, fun event which it would have been impossible to attend here in Myanmar only two years ago. It was mind blowing.

What have you learnt from your colleagues or beneficiaries on mission?
Myanmar people are very welcoming and so eager to learn - they have taught me that approaching things in what they call a 'cool' manner is really the best approach. It just means to stay relaxed, treat people respectfully and to be calm within yourself.

What did you study? What's your profession when you are not an aid worker?
I completed an undergrad in communications and a Masters in International Development at RMIT. When I was last home I started a business - ethically traded goods from Myanmar www.kyarchi.com.

How do you stay fit and healthy while on mission?
Regular yoga and meditation, and a hilarious weekly ballet class for adults!

How do you maintain your relationships with your partner or family while you're away?
It's always difficult. This time I have brought my partner with me. Phone and internet is not great in Myanmar - so if I am in Bangkok I always spend a day just on Skype!

Updates from the team

Resources
Aid Worker Security Report 2012
(Published on HumanitarianOutcomes.org) 
Long-term historical trends show violence is decreasing across the globe. Particularly after the Cold War, statistics show that all types of warfare has declined, both between and within states, as have state-sanctioned torture and human rights abuse.

In contrast, the number of attacks against aid workers shows an upward trend. This may be partly a function of the relatively short time-span since this data has become available (1997-present), but it is also explained by the willingness of aid agencies and individuals to maintain an operational presence in the small number of very violent settings. 

Data from the Aid Worker Security Database show that in the past several years, major violence against aid workers is increasingly concentrated in a small number of extremely insecure countries. This report explores why that is the case. Read the report on HumanitarianOutcomes.org 

Upcoming training opportunities
Program Design, Monitoring and Evaluation 
Sydney: 30 April and 1 May 2013

Capacity Development Across Cultures
Sydney: 2 and 3 May 2013

International Humanitarian Action Training
Melbourne: 22, 23 and 24 May 2013
Darwin: 5, 6 and 7 June 2013

International Humanitarian Protection Training 
Sydney: 19 and 20 June 2013