Concludes the XX Interamerican Conference

By the time the last session of the  XX Inter American Conference began, we had spent two days and a half immersed in discussions, presentations, lunch meetings and long working nights with the absolute commitment of planning the next four years of humanitarian action in the Americas.

The conference did come to an end, but our strong commitment, the important reflections on how to move forward and our immense enthusiasm for the implementation of the new Framework for Action are present in our work more than ever.

Contributions of the working groups

The final session, which was held on Monday afternoon, was based on the recommendations proposed by the working groups during the previous sessions held on Saturday, Sunday and Monday morning.

The common denominator among these groups which addressed issues related to inequity, health, accountability, voluntary work and youth, among other topics, was the need to be more transparent and implement accountability processes towards our beneficiaries, volunteers and stakeholders.

The working groups concluded that our work will be relevant only to the extent that our actions have a positive impact on communities and we are committed to accountability.

The sub regional groups suggested that the Framework for Action needs to be promoted so that National Societies can familiarize and identify themselves with this framework. These groups pointed out that the previous framework was not sufficiently shared and this caused difficulties in its implementation.

Approval of the Houston Commitment

Once the suggestions had been proposed by the groups, the Houston Commitment was presented to the audience. All the participants approved it unanimously with an enthusiastic applause.

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Hosting the 21st Inter American Conference

National Societies were given the opportunity to put themselves forward as organisers of the next conference. Brazil was the only National Society that stepped forward, therefore it was approved as the new host for the next conference. The chair of the Brazilian Red Cross, Ms Rosely Pimentel Sampaio, thanked the participants for their vote of confidence.

The president of Brazilian Red Cross, with delegates from Brazil who attended the Conference
The president of Brazilian Red Cross, with delegates from Brazil who attended the Conference

 

Acknowledgments

Guatemala, Argentina, Honduras and Panama, among other National Societies, asked for the opportunity to make special acknowledgments. Among the participants who received recognition was Megan Allday, from the American Red Cross organising committee, Harold Brooks and the American Red Cross.

Delegation of Panama giving recognition to American Red Cross
Delegation of Panama giving recognition to American Red Cross

 

Delegation of Honduras giving recognition to the American Red Cross
Delegation of Honduras giving recognition to the American Red Cross

One of the most moving moments of the conference was when the American Red Cross volunteers were thanked for their support in organizing the conference. One by one, the volunteers entered the conference hall and received a standing ovation from the audience for a job well done.

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CORI Board of directors

The former chair of the CORI since Monday, Ms Annabella Folgar de Roca, thanked the participants for their support during her term of office and presented the new board of directors:IMG_9160

  • Chair: Juan Cueva, President, Ecuadorian Red Cross
  • Vice Chair: José Juan Castro, Chairman, Honduran Red Cross
  • Guiteau Jean-Pierre, Chairman, Haiti Red Cross
  • Treasurer: José Benjamín Ruiz, Chairman,  Salvadorean Red Cross
  • Members: Marja Naarendorp, chair of the Suriname Red Cross, and Nivea Garcia de Meerhoff, chair of the Uruguayan Red Cross.

Closing remarks

IMG_9211Finally, Mr. Buzz Heidt, chairman of the conference from the American Red Cross, emphasized the importance of working towards building community resilience, while the vice chair of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Mr. Osvaldo Ferrero, remarked that he was happy about the results and he was certain that we are going on the right track. He thanked the International Committee and the American Red Cross for being such an excellent host.

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Health Care in Danger

Violence is a reality that affects us all in the region. The Americas has 41 of the 50 most dangerous cities in the world, and not only in Latin America. These conditions of urban violence often hinder the humanitarian work, especially of the health workers who risk their lives trying to access to bring aid to those in need.

This was the focus of the discussion at the session “Health Care in Danger”, presented by the ICRC and the Colombian Red Cross and chaired by the Salvadoran Red Cross. The event enabled National Societies to share their experiences to strengthen respect to health care and mobilize the region for future action. The National Societies of El Salvador and Colombia presented their experience working in conflict areas and urban violence present in these two countries.

The Salvadoran case

José Benjamin Ruiz, President of Salvadoran Red Cross, said “violence is portrayed differently in Colombia than in Guatemala, for example Maras, organized gangs acting citywide keep in distress schools, companies and small businesses.” He reflected that this forces us to think of solutions tailored to each local situation.

José Benjamin Ruiz, President Salvadoran Red Cross
José Benjamin Ruiz, President Salvadoran Red Cross

“As a  Movement, we must find a way to address these threats in order to protect the lives of our volunteers and health workers assisting communities”.

Roy Venegas, also from Salvadoran Red Cross, talked about what happens in El Salvador where many health workers ask to be transfered to safer communities, which causes many communities to be left without timely medical assistance.

Several public institutions and international organizations like the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) together with the Salvadoran Red Cross have performed an analysis to improve the conditions of access and acceptance in communities with problems of violence in order to safeguard the security of humanitarian personnel.

A protocol between the Ministry of Health, the Red Cross and public and private institutions was developed to achieve better results, this includes improving the visibility of our actions zoning communities of difficult access due to the presence of violent cells, operating procedures, etc.

Colombia: Negotiating with a multitude of scenarios

Fernando Cárdenas, President of the Colombian Red Cross, commented that Colombia has lived for many years with the crisis of and internal armed conflict that forces to continue taking maximum security measures, especially in areas controlled by non-state groups where attention to health services is scarce and where humanitarian work is not only dangerous but demands more human and technical resources.

Additionally, the situation of urban violence is becoming more complex in Colombia due to the demobilization of persons who used to be part of non-state groups and the increase in violence caused by people dedicated to micro traffic in cities like Medellin, Cali and others with an important growth of urban population.

In communities, the ICRC and Colombian Red Cross are working to mitigate the risks of access to populations considered dangerous, for which they work in coordination with national and local authorities to find mechanisms to protect the humanitarian personnel. The indicative and protective use of the emblem helps a lot in all times and places.

Moreover, in the recent months Colombia has suffered large protests from sectors such as transport, to request claims, that have generated a climate of instability in different cities.

Fernando Cardenas, President of Colombian Red Cross
Fernando Cardenas, President of Colombian Red Cross

This multiplicity of scenarios has led to strengthening the capacity and operational safety of volunteers and health workers. This includes issues such as knowledge of minimum safety standards, safe transport of ambulances, mobile health services in areas where there is conflict.

In these areas, the work is done in conjunction with the Ministry of Public Health. The most important action line with the government is health and we advocate a lot for the safety of our volunteers.

As successful experience, two years ago, during mobilization and participation of social movements that caused road closures, limited access to border towns and blockades of several access roads, Colombian Red Cross organized health caravans and medical supplies to supply hospitals and make the crisis less traumatic.

Violence sometimes causes interruptions in the path of ambulances with injured people, however, to a lesser degree when they are from the ICRC and Red Cross. The joint work between the ICRC and the Red Cross includes advocacy in the communities, with legal and illegal armed actors.

Meanwhile Juan José Castro, President of Honduran Red Cross noted that violence against personnel of the Red Cross has increased. Honduran Red Cross is working with international cooperation and the Salvadorean Red Cross and Norwegian Red Cross in protection mechanisms for medical staff where preventive actions with the Ministry of Public Health are also coordinated.

In the case of Honduras there is an additional problem because of a misuse of our Emblem by different state institutions, veterinary businesses, medical offices and all kinds of stores that uses it without the knowledge of the laws for its use. It is important that as an organization, the Red Cross claims its emblem as it protects us under crisis conditions.

Volunteers: Guardians of the Red Cross

All volunteers, from the youngest to the most experienced, are the face and image of our Movement, they work every day selflessly giving to the Red Cross the value, respect and recognition that the organization has within our societies. These volunteers are the guardians of our fundamental principles, they protect the essence of the organization and are the best representation of the Red Cross in the communities.IMG_8952

As National Red Cross Red Crescent Societies are trusted to serve communities from the inside, volunteering is the essential foundation for making and sustaining strong National Societies. A National Society’s capacity and effectiveness is directly related to its ability to mobilise, manage and empower volunteers from across the communities that it serves.

Red Cross volunteers operate in a range of diverse and complex circumstances in a fast changing world where social, demographic, economic, and environmental trends as well as technological advancements are altering the shape and functioning of communities and how people volunteer. The volunteers are the most valuable asset of the Red Cross, however,  major challenges are presented. While it is true that globally there are approximately 70 billion volunteers, only 4.3% are in the Americas. The retention of volunteers is also a challenge, we need to create better workplaces for them, provide adequate security plans and improve volunteer management. Also, a simpler processes to become a volunteer and that they are part of the decision-making and have greater leadership within the National Society suggested.

Besides highlighting the enormous value of volunteering, the panel, comprised of volunteers from National Societies, emphasized the responsibility of volunteering as guardians of the Red Cross, recalling the need to keep in mind that they represent an organization, are the guardians of the reputation of the Red Cross and must protect it.

Parallel session 2: Auditing and accountability supported by the development of strong financial systems

One in every 500 people in the world is a Red Cross Red Crescent volunteer. As the world’s largest humanitarian network, we are accountable to a huge constituency: the people we serve, our donors, public institutions, whole communities, and our staff and volunteers.

It is vital that we are transparent and clear about the work we do, what services we offer to people, and how we spend donor dollars.

In a session led by the El Salvadoran Red Cross and the Paraguayan Red Cross, we reviewed a range of ways that national societies are maintaining transparency and accountability to the various stakeholders. We heard from representatives from Suriname, Finland, Guatemala, Cuba, Haiti, and Honduras about how accountability has led to increased delivery of services, donor trust, volunteer participation, and efficiency.

The Cuban Red Cross reviewed the ways in which it collected “lessons learned” from its Hurricane Sandy response in 2012. Teams of Cuban Red Cross volunteers served about 75,000 people impacted by the storm. One of the ways it ensured accountability to beneficiaries was to install auditors at relief distributions. The auditors also spoke to beneficiaries to gather honest feedback.

The Finnish Red Cross gave an excellent overview of tools that can be put into place to ensure financial accountability and transparency. These include things such as:

  • Documenting our actions;
  • Strong accounting software;
  • Strict financial and administrative guidelines;
  • Transparency and prudence in procurements;
  • Clear contractual agreements; and
  • External and internal audits.

These are just a few ways that Red Cross Red Crescent teams are staying accountable to their contingencies – an essential part of providing the best humanitarian aid to people in need.

Parallel Session 1

Based on the results of the online forum on financial sustainability in www.desaprender.org, financial sustainability and financing models were identified as a priority. Representatives from seven National Societies presented resource mobilization successes and challenges that concluded in breakout discussion focused on better sharing of best practices.

The speakers emphasized that National Societies have to promote a strategy of sustainable development and fortify the internal business culture to develop new models of managements and fundraising relevant to their communities ; assure integrity and independence through strict controls; and improve the capacity to respond to emergencies. Jorge Mendes, from the Peruvian Red Cross, emphasized the need for exacting financial controls and encouraged listeners to “do for ourselves what we are trying to do for our local communities – develop resilience in our processes.”

Increasing visibility is key and National Societies need to intensify their efforts in communication and marketing through the use of technology and new media to reach donors; outreach to public & private donors through better customer relationship management; and development of diversified and sustainable support.

Participants were encouraged to develop services that benefit their communities in partnership with businesses and public authorities. The Argentine Red Cross shared their model of providing professional training through the school system to over 12,500 students a year. Between their formal training in health care and informal training, such as first aid, they fund 70% of their operating budget. The Dominica Red Cross shared their successful sales models. In such a small country, they are able to generate income through sales of medical equipment and second-hand goods. By filling a relevant need in the community, these National Societies are finding ways to expand their income potential beyond a purely donor-based model.

Dominica Red Cross

The session was summarized by Eric Barese who emphasized that, “we are all operating toward a shared goal – to provide the best possible services.” To do that, business models need to be applicable to the environment and data and best practices should be shared.

The Stars at Night are Big and Bright….

On Sunday night, conference attendees enjoyed some true Texas hospitality at the George Ranch. Hosted by Citgo, this opportunity to learn about the culture and history of Texas was the perfect way to celebrate so many cultures coming together. Participants watched a rodeo, enjoyed a traditional barbecue dinner,  and danced to a country band in George Ranch Historical Park. Thanks again to our sponsor Citgo who made this special event possible.

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Volunteering Saves Lives

Drew%20Wight1DEDICATED TO DONATION Andrew (Drew) Wight, of Plano, Texas, is a regular blood donor. Inspired by his father who donated frequently during Drew’s childhood, Drew started rolling up his sleeve when he was 18 years old. Sixteen years later, Drew still takes time out to help others through blood donation.

“Though I will never know the people I am helping, I recognize that emergencies happen all the time – and I like to think that I played a small part in being there for somebody in a crisis or chronic situation,” said Drew.

GOING THE EXTRA MILE Drew recently learned about the importance of platelet donation and wanted to give it a try. Platelets are a key clotting component of blood often needed by cancer patients, burn victims and bone marrow recipients. Since Drew could not donate platelets at his local Red Cross, he decided to go the extra mile – more than 300 miles, that is. Drew was able to arrange an appointment to donate platelets during a recent business trip to Little Rock, Arkansas.

“I think that the message is to love others,” said Drew. “I give to indirectly love others, and I may need someone else’s indirect love one day. It is a small sacrifice to make to help someone.”

Drew says he will continue to donate blood, and he plans to donate platelets again during future trips to Little Rock.