“How do you save a million people from a cyclone?”
“Flights were cancelled. Train service was out. And one of the biggest storms in years was bearing down on Odisha, one of India’s poorest states, where millions of people live cheek by jowl in a low-lying coastal area in mud-and-stick shacks.” ~ The New York Times
Happy World Red Cross Day! More on that later but first I want to begin by acknowledging the amazing achievement of those involved to avoid massive loss of life when Cyclone Fani hit the Indian sub-continent on Friday.
Tens of millions of people received warnings, including communities at risk. In India, about 1.1 million people were evacuated away from the coast; in Bangladesh, 1.6 million were evacuated. The Indian Red Cross opened 65 shelters in Odisha state, and helped vulnerable people to evacuate. Tens of thousands of people people stayed in Red Cross shelters.
The disaster preparedness and mobilisation led by the authorities were impressive. In the hours before Fani hit, final preparations were in full swing to keep people safe. In the Indian state of Odisha in the path of Fani, Indian Red Cross staff and 1,500 volunteers trained in first aid, disaster management and rescue passed on life-saving early warning messages to some of 20 million people in at-risk districts.
Among the messages: Try not to panic. Listen to the radio and follow instructions. We will help. Red Cross is here with you.
Now of course the damage is huge. Thousands of homes have been lost and people’s lives and livelihoods uprooted. It will take years to recover. But precious lives were saved.
Wide brown land
We had rain last week. It was music to hear it on the roof. I was thinking – phew, a smidgen of rain just when crops are being ploughed in. But when I left for work early on Thursday, wearing my coat in preparation for the dark May morning, I stepped outside to what felt like a summer morning. I instantly knew those few musical drops of rain were not enough... Hopefully with the current weather patterns there will be more rain at this critical time of the year.
Many of us have an increasingly uneasy feeling about where this drought and hot weather are headed. The $11.5 million that Australians so generously donated to farming families last year is now fully distributed to those most in need. The partners we worked with, such as the Country Women’s Association and the Rural Financial Counseling service did an amazing job – talking with farming families, supporting them as well as delivering the funds. In the meantime, our members in NSW farming communities have been doing an incredible job with our Let’s Talk program. You can see some highlights here.
We are working on additional plans to support communities through these increasingly dry times with the support of a major partner we hope to announce soon.
I took the photo above as I took off from Melbourne to Sydney to attend our NSW World Red Cross Day celebrations on Friday. Such a wide brown land.
A 'My Team' effort
Last week we launched our new digital tool – the My Team app. The app can be hugely helpful to the people you work with, especially those facing social isolation, adjusting to life in a new country or recovering from a traumatic event.
The cross-functional team that worked to launch this new product includes Rebecca Cunningham, Ben Hanley, Jo Karabin, Chris Steains and Elizabeth McCallum. Bec provided the services content and supported those with lived experience to test the app. Ben provided the digital expertise, Jo the marketing and communications eye to ensure we had a great launch, Chris the IT expertise and Elizabeth the legal advice.
The collaborative, energised and deeply engaged team, supported by many others, worked with people with lived experience to ensure the app provides the best possible experience and support.
Over the course of the first week since launch, we’ve had 1,300 unique users start using the app and we’re already seeing strong interaction with the goals and mood check-in features. What a great team effort!
We’ve recently had some great wins
- We’ll be a major participant in the preparation for the 9th Asia-Pacific Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Brisbane in June 2020. This is a major event with over 3,000 government and intergovernmental participants. The focus will be on sustainable development, climate change and disaster risk reduction.
- In the past few months we’ve secured significant additional resources for our work in supporting those who are facing trafficking, improving mental health outcomes for vulnerable migrants, our Young Parents Program, drought programs to support farming families and communities and our first aid initiatives in correctional facilities.
- Our analysis on Game of Thrones characters for war crimes has received significant wide-ranging interest. As a result of various teams’ efforts and volunteers, it is our most viewed website story of all time and has been showcased by ABC online & TV, SBS, NewsCorp, Fairfax, Triple J, 3AW and others, reaching a nationwide audience of at least one million people. Media has also occurred in the overseas. It has even been shared by the head of the US Military Academy (West Point) Lieber Center for International Law to its military cadets! And it is being translated into French!
- We recently launched our new youth network, RedXYouth. This network has now connected with 2,000 young people who have big plans for the future of doing good. Elected leaders from the network will soon meet with our Board and we are excited to see where they will lead us in the coming months.
- New online systems are making life easier for our people to access HR support through the HR portal and for our supporters to keep giving and to do so securely thanks to our new online payment system.
But there are also some tricky areas to navigate
I am so thankful (but not surprised) for the efforts of our volunteers and staff who ran several tests in recent months to help find ways to get 3 million Australians prepared for disaster recovery. We knew from the outset it wouldn’t be easy, but it is so important in the face of increasing natural disasters. Our testing hasn’t led to the ‘silver bullet’ we were looking for, but we’ve learnt we have the ability to reach incredible numbers of people. The challenge is getting those people to act and get prepared!
Where to now? The months of testing has helped us learn and gather information and data which we’ll use to hone our approaches. We have opportunities which we can use to help get 3 million Australians prepared, like the national framework mentioned above. We are also looking to our broader networks (e.g. fire services, scouts) to reach people who may be more likely to take action.
World Red Cross Day – Love and Mates!
Every year on Henri Dunant’s birthday (8 May), we celebrate World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day. Internationally, we are celebrating the strength and reach of our global network, and the contribution of our staff and 11.7 million active volunteers through the theme #Love.
Closer to home, some of our volunteer hubs are playing on our founder's auspicious birth date, May 8 also known as ‘maaayt’ to encourage acts of kindness.
Ross Pinney and I joined our staff, members and volunteers in NSW for an early celebration on Friday. Ross spoke about Henri Dunant rallying civilians to help 40,000 wounded in Solferino, Italy in 1859. You can read his speech here. This act of kindness was then replicated at scale, evolving into the core of what we do at Red Cross. And Poppy Brown (Director, NSW/ACT) shared the mission of Red Cross as defined by Henri himself:
“To prevent and alleviate human suffering in all its forms. To inspire human goodness and compassion.”
Later today, Noel Clement will share how the work we do in Australia contributes to the work of the Movement globally. I encourage you to join him on Skype or have a look at the various meetings available if you’d like to join in person.
Whether you’re planning to Skype in or be there in person to celebrate World Red Cross Day, let us know: What do you #love about Red Cross and Red Crescent? Tag #IFRC #Love #RedCrossDay to share your thoughts.
Left: I spent some time with Di Buckles (Chair, WA Divisional Advisory Board) and the Trauma Teddy team during my trip to Sydney last week. Right: A shot with Chris Mansfield and Ross Pinney at the NSW Youth Engagement stall.
When I was in Sydney last week, I had the chance to catch up with Poppy Brown, Di Buckles and also the Trauma Teddy team. I met members of the Red Cross Paterson Branch which was awarded the inaugural Red Cross NSW Innovation Award as part of the World Red Cross Day celebrations we attended.
The Paterson Branch is introducing Trauma Teddies to kids on their first day of school. This special teddy is to hug for comfort when things get tough or to help celebrate in the excitement of the first day at school. This wonderful idea builds a connection with Red Cross from a young age and it is heart-warming to see how the program has evolved. Congratulations to the Branch!
We started the Trauma Teddy program in 1990 and these hand-crafted teddies were initially sent to hospitals and ambulances. Since then, the Trauma Teddies have been sent to domestic violence shelters, nursing homes, emergency response teams, family courts, schools and a variety of services. Last year, we had 608 knitters from 75 knitting groups who volunteer their time and skills to knit, stuff, sew and label a total of 45,000 teddies to reach out to 70,000 people, mostly children. Such amazing work.
To bot or not to bot!
Dave King, CEO and founder of Melbourne-based creative artificial intelligence startup Move 37, will be speaking about AI issues. You might be interested in this talk that he’s giving in June on the nature of language. It’ll be livestreamed. We’re also linking up with this group as part of our Humanitech work.
Talk to you next week.