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Connecting througout COVID | World Red Cross Red Crescent Day | Spread hope and kindness

30 April 2020

Hi from my home office

Connecting throughout COVID-19

This week in Australia we launched COVID-CONNECT.  As physical distancing requirements bring sharp increases in feelings of social isolation and loneliness Red Cross volunteers are reaching out through this service to help people build connections with others.  Since the pandemic began we've made tens of thousands of calls to people home alone during the pandemic as well as helping with meals, hygiene items and vital information.  COVID-CONNECT builds on our long experience of providing outreach to people experiencing tough times during times of disaster and disruption.  Social isolation, along with disruptions to our sense of connection can greatly impact our health, wellbeing and happiness.  Research has shown that being cut off from our regular social networks and activities, losing our mobility, employment or facing new health issues can have a negative impact on our wellbeing.  We also know that social connection is a great antidote.  That's why we've launched COVID-CONNECT.

As we know, COVID-19 is having an even greater impact in many places around the world.  During this time we are closely connected with our sister Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies as we all do amazing humanitarian work to support those impacted by COVID-19.  

Michael Fletcher, who leads our engagement with our peers gave a great summary of a live streamed Red Talk from IFRC on the role of communities in Africa in responding to COVID-19..

"A number of African volunteers relayed stories. The overall theme was one of trust. In Uganda, community volunteers are distributing food on behalf of the government, because they are uniquely trusted to do so impartially, and because they know their communities well enough to ensure equitable distribution. Somalian volunteer Afi related the story of a Red Cross volunteer who played a part in identifying and reporting the first case of COVID-19 in her town. She was able to do this because she was a trusted member of the community, who provided first aid services to people in her town, and because volunteers were being continuously trained to do surveillance in order to report emerging risks. Being a trusted member of the community, people are not suspicious of Red Cross volunteers, and are open about any symptoms they are experiencing.  Finally Vivianne in the Rift Valley in Kenya described train the trainer programs in which health trained staff and volunteers provide training to other volunteers who go on to provide instruction on health and hygiene measures to the public.  The work of these volunteers in community education as well as surveillance is effective because they have worked in the communities before on other health outbreaks such as cholera, and are trusted to do the best for the community.  A really good illustration of the importance of being present in communities if we want to be trusted and effective."

Back in Australian, in the Townsville Women’s Prison, a group of volunteers who call themselves ‘Sisters for Change’ are working to support their community through COVID-19. The prisons in QLD have banned external visitors sent an update by mail to the QLD team. The volunteers are providing a range of initiatives despite the challenging circumstances. These include spreading the word inside prison on the importance of hand hygiene (particularly important in the Covid-19 context), and also writing, illustrating and recording an audio version of a children’s book.  The women are now trying to get the book finalised, printed and audio distributed to their children in the community – an amazing achievement that will mean a huge amount to the women in prison and also to their children and families in the community. 

This is all the more special as the women have been able to achieve this in a lockdown environment where Community Based Health and First Aid staff are not able to provide face-to-face support and other prison activities are severely limited.

There are so many examples of wonderful things Red Cross people are doing - both directly in support of those who need support as well as behind the scenes.

Spread hope and kindness

There are many ways to reach out and perform simple acts of kindness. One great way is to join our Digital Advocates - an online community, supported by Australian Red Cross, made up of good humans who work together to actively share information and spark conversations and promote storytelling and social connection.

You can find infographics, articles, key tips and other resources to share with our communities and networks.

Our mission is to flatten the curve, help those left most vulnerable and isolated, and support all Australians to cope with disruption and uncertainty.

It’s a space for promoting community, a sense of hope and kindness in a difficult time for us all.

World Red Cross Red Crescent Day

Next week we’ll be marking World Red Cross Red Crescent Day on Friday 8 May which is also the birthday of Henry Dunant.

In 1859 Henry passed through the town of Solferino where 40,000 soldiers lay wounded or dying. He rallied the civilians in the town to help the injured, no matter which side they were on. That simple act of kindness was then replicated, at scale. And this is why, 160 years after the Battle of Solferino, there’s a Red Cross or Red Crescent Society in 192 countries across the globe.

Here are some ways you can pay it forward and make a simple act of kindness to mark this day.

Join us (virtually!) to mark the day

In a time where we are socially distanced from each other, connection has never been more important. Next week we will be sharing stories from Australia and abroad about our work in response to COVID-19, making sure that those vulnerable and isolated in our community are supported during this time.

We'll be hosting a live streaming event where we hope to be joined by one of our peers in the Pacific. We're working closely with our partner Red Cross societies there especially as we both face the challenge of recovering from disasters (Cyclone Harold in the Pacific and bushfires here) whilst also dealing with COVID-19.

We'll provide more details early next week to be ready to go live on Friday afternoon. You can also follow us on LinkedINFacebook or Twitter to get a notification when we go live.

In the meantime, we want to hear from you. Share stories with us of how you're making an act of kindness or finding new ways to connect with friends, family and colleagues. Send them to us via askjudy@redcross.org.au

Bushfire response continues

We continue to focus on supporting those impacted by the fires and providing grants.  You can see our latest update on our website.  All involved are dedicated to ensuring we are doing all we can to help the recovery and are very conscious that for some communities they have faced drought, fires and now COVID-19.  We are working with the recovery agencies in the States and the National Bushfire Recovery Agency to make sure we can focus on gaps and combine our community knowledge with their State and Federal knowledge to maximise our ongoing response. 

In addition, this week we provided a submission to the Royal Commission into Black Summer bushfires.

We'll share our full submission with you when they have been published by the commission but here's a summary of what we contributed:

  • The reality of climate change’s impacts on the severity and frequency of disasters, and the total (including social and economic) costs that flow from this which are projected to reach $33 billion per year by 2050. This clearly demonstrates the need for Australia to invest more in disaster mitigation and community resilience now
  • The need to ensure our emergency management systems are human-centered and informed by data
  • The need to resource and embed community recovery more effectively within all aspects of emergency management – not only as something that is scaled up in response to major events
  • The need to recognise, privilege and learn from the voices and knowledge of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
  • The rapidly evolving nature of volunteering and humanitarian action that saw 38% of responses during the fires being self-generated by the community. This necessitates that we recognise and foster new ways to support community-led action.
  • The critical importance of accountability to communities to build public trust in emergency management systems and agencies, and that might best be achieved through the introduction of consistent standards on transparency across all aspects of emergency management
  • The significant expansion of technologies as enablers at all stages of emergency management and the need to take advantage the opportunities technology brings to reduce harm and get the best possible humanitarian outcomes from disasters.

Ramadan in quieter times

Last week marked the start of Ramadan which takes on a quiet meaning this year as mosques shut down and changes to rituals and gatherings are in place. Muslims around the world are adjusting to the new norm, fasting in confinement as COVID-19 changes the rhythm of the sacred month. To our Muslims friends, colleagues and family, we understand it is a tough time. We are with you and we’re always here to support you.

You may be seeing the launch of COVID Connect in the news this week. It’s a free phone service to provide support and community connection to people who are feeling socially isolated as a result of COVID-19. 

And if you know of someone who’s hit hard by job losses, school interruptions or other life changes due to the coronavirus crisis, here are some tips to help you support them.

That’s all for this week.

Take care,
Judy