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Adding a bit of sparkle around the world

15 April 2020

Hi everyone,

It is an important time of year for many with various religious and cultural observances and an important time of rest and reflection. I hope you had a good break over the long weekend and spent some quality time with family, friends and doing what is important to you. It was good for me to take a breather from all the news and social media updates to have some time off to reconnect and recharge especially during this time.

I’ve also been intrigued to see how many ways people are connecting with family and friends during COVID-19. Those playing card games or games like Words with Friends online, or introducing virtual birthday celebrations via video calls, Skype or Zoom, or joining an online choir or simply catching up friends and family. This article has some good tips - technology and other solutions for staying connected with elderly friends and family in the COVID-19 era.

This week I want to celebrate what Red Cross volunteers are doing in Australia and all over the world. Their commitment, creativity, dedication and sheer hard work is the focus on my blog.

Volunteer stories

The International Red Cross held a Volunteers Virtual think tank last week which was attended by 700 people. It was to share ideas of what Red Cross volunteers around the world are doing.

You can find a recording and also the notes taken by volunteers during the Virtual Think Tank here in English and Spanish. The above sketch was done by one of the participants. It shows some of the stories and conversations from the teleconference.

You can also read more from the IFRC website where volunteers are submitting their stories on how they are taking action through #OURCOVIDSTORY.

Here in Australia and around the world there are also many ways our amazing Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers are doing to support communities and frontline workers who are doing their best every day.

Volunteers in our partner National Societies in Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, PNG, Fiji and Tonga are focussing their COVID-19 efforts on community engagement activities. As these activities are usually done in large group settings, alternative methods, including visiting households door to door, are being employed to spread health messages. Volunteers are distributing localised brochures and posters, providing important information regarding COVID-19. In Vanuatu for example, volunteers are distributing brochures along with non-food items being provided as part of the relief efforts for Tropical Cyclone Harold.

In Vanuatu, PNG and the Solomon Islands particularly, volunteers are promoting hygiene by, for instance, demonstrating proper handwashing techniques. 

Below are some amazing stories of our Red Cross volunteers around the world who are adding a bit of sparkle in our daily lives during these strange times.

Coffs Harbour Migrant Parenting Programs

The Coffs Harbour Migrant Parenting Programs have embraced the virtual world in these times of social distancing and have been very creative. All clients are being supported via telephone, Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp and email (and soon Zoom). 

The team has:

  • created a closed Facebook group to run virtual sessions of their programs (Connected Hearts – Red Cross). Currently there are over 40 members of the group (families) with another 15 set to join.
  • conducted weekly online interactive playgroups, with 20 families participating live and hundreds of comments. Three hours later the recorded session had been viewed 35 times.
  • conducted online library reading time - The Coffs Harbour Library is continuing to have a story time online, and were also live streaming to the group on Facebook where our volunteer Amanda Flack (pictured above) reads to the children, and families. This assists greatly with English language skills.
  • moving Yummy Tummies to an online model with presentations by university students and shopping lists etc provided to clients – Amanda will support this “in the home” via one-on-one Messenger conversations.
  • provided COVID-19 support: Volunteers have been matched with 5-6 families each and are contacting them one-on-one via text, phone, email and video chat apps
  • ensuring document service operates smoothly - There are times that service users require documents printed / scanned for migration, Centrelink, Service NSW etc.

The team also ensures that any essential face-to-face contact is occurring outside with only one family member (other family members are to remain in the car) at a two-metre distance.

Self-isolation kit

Being in quarantine or self-isolation will be a challenging time. It's important for us to look after our wellbeing during this time. We’re about to trial a kit for people in hotel isolation which shares some of our learnings and provides activities to do each day, focussing on ways to stay active, positive, calm and connected to loved ones. The activities are fun hotel-room friendly activities designed to give the day structure, and works with a diary, to help people track what they've achieved each day. 

The kit also includes a conversation starter, as social connection is so important for our mental wellbeing. Being in quarantine for 14 days will start to feel repetitive, so we’ve provided some talking points to spark new conversations, either with those people are in quarantine with, or with family and friends over the phone. We’re trialling the kit this week in NSW and looking forward to getting to seeing how it goes.

Project Courage: AOK!

By Singapore Red Cross

In Singapore, the Red Cross Youth Chapter members took to the streets to share a little act of kindness as part of their Project Courage: AOK!

37 Chapter Members gathered to personally wrap roses and write encouraging messages to the silent heroes in our midst – frontline service staff; from the hawker cleaners, bus captains, train staff, taxi drivers, the neighbourhood customer service staff, security guards to the medical centre staff, community healthcare and service frontline officers.

A small act that goes a long way.

The Spray Men 

By MD Elahi Rawshan
Bangladesh Red Crescent Society

There’s a pin drop silence at the Hospital’s Emergency Ward. When we arrived there it seems like all the doctors, nurses and staff are performing mannequin.

We were really confused about what happened there and then we got to know that a patient tested positive for COVID-19 had been brought there and died on the stretcher five minutes ago. That was the very first COVID-19 case for that hospital and everyone was in a little shock though they’ve washed the floor already with bleach water. We tried to assure them that we will disinfect the place well and that they can all continue their work there.

We then started disinfecting the whole place with our sprayer. We disinfected every bed, chamber, cabin, desk, chair and all the people at the emergency ward at that time. And we noticed it worked really well, they were very much assured and started touching their equipment and working.

Now it’s already been three weeks since we started spraying disinfectants at the hospitals for treating patients with COVID-19. Every day we are experiencing so many heartwarming events. It seems like we become a trusted partner of the doctors and the staff there. A senior doctor from one of the hospitals once said, “You young people bring much energy every day that we feel recharged and more motivated to serve when we see you working. We (doctor, nurses and patients) often wonder how brave you are and how great your parents are to let you do this work for humanity.” Now, the hospital staff say “here comes the Spray Men” when they see us coming.

That’s how we become “The Spray Men” to them.

A coffee filter as a mask

By Hugo Clement
French Red Cross

Medhi is homeless and suffers from lung cancer when the French Red Cross met him. He fears for his life and the lives of others, which is why he made a makeshift mask for himself, using a coffee filter, taped to his skin.

Volunteers of the French Red Cross, upon learning of his condition, exercise extra caution and fear of contaminating him. They know it would be fatal to him. “The marginalised are even more marginalised” confirms Medhi, seated on a bench, in a deserted city that resounds with a macabre silence.

Fortunately, a bit later, when our two Red Cross volunteers help another homeless man, this silence is broken by the thousands of applause in honour of the medical staff.

In Poland "We are proud and happy of our volunteers’ engagement"

By Magdalena StefaƄska
Polish Red Cross

With the engagement of volunteers, Polish Red Cross has just started psychological helpline where qualified psychologists and psychotherapists are on duty. Between 10am and 11pm, seven days a week, they provide psychological support to people who experience the negative effects of the pandemic. It includes psychoeducation, first psychological aid, providing information on places where specialist help can be obtained. Regular feedback is conducted concerning gender, age group, kind of problems beneficiaries are facing. The work of psychologists and psychotherapists is supervised by an expert. It is the very first helpline that the National Society is offering to the beneficiaries and we are proud and happy that it is based on volunteer engagement.

These are beautiful stories of strength, kindness, bravery and most of all humanity. Thank you to all volunteers near and far for all that you do. If you have a story to share, head over to the IFRC website to submit them.

I hope you’re keeping well. Talk to you next week.