“I am amazed to see how the volunteers persist in working under extremely difficult conditions and under extreme heat that exceeds 40 degrees Celsius during the day. Generally, all over the world, Red Cross Red Crescent volunteers are involved in responding to destructive events. In most places, the volunteers do their thing, and get to go home to a normal life at the end of the day. Here, the disaster is repeated every day. The wounded are bandaged, just as new wounded appear. Danger lurks on every street corner, in every neighborhood.”
The Central African Republic (CAR) is one of the poorest countries in the world. It has been embroiled in a decades-long series of armed conflicts, which came to a head in December 2013. Many people have been killed in violent clashes and nearly 700,000 people are internally displaced. Six-hundred volunteers from Central African Republic Red Cross Society, supported by the ICRC and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, are on the ground fighting to rescue the injured, evacuate casualties and provide food and shelter for displaced people.
In January, Belgian Red Cross psychosocial support expert Olivier Nyssens went to CAR to help the Red Cross set up systems to provide psychosocial support to the volunteers. “Upon my arrival, I was asked by Dr. Fernand Gbagba, director of the Health Department of the Central African Red Cross, to organize an introduction to psychosocial support for 250 volunteers,” recounts Nyssens, “The volunteers are having a very difficult time. They are transporting the wounded, but they also retrieve dead bodies under extreme conditions. Many of the bodies are massacred and have been left in the streets for several days before being reported. At the same time, the volunteers also have to deal with the fact that they are threatened by either one of the parties in the conflict.” Meanwhile, explains Nyssens, other volunteers help Central African Republic Red Cross Society distribute food aid, dig latrines and organize help to displaced people.
In any emergency, caring for staff and volunteers is important, but fortunately it is rare that volunteers work in conditions as difficult and dangerous as those in CAR. The PS Centre commends Central African Republic Red Cross Society for their effort to care for and support their volunteers in these most difficult circumstances.
This article has been adapted and translated from the original French-language article from Belgian Red Cross.