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Red Cross calling

Photo: Australian Red Cross aid worker Lindah Jury in Pes
The Australian branch of the British Red Cross Society was formed in 1914 amid the outbreak of the First World War. One hundred years later, nurses and allied health professionals are still answering the organisation’s call to help others, writes Karen Keast.


An avid traveller, Lindah Jury always dreamt of working overseas but she wanted to be much more than a tourist.

Lindah, a registered nurse, wanted to use her nursing and health skills to assist others while also experiencing a connection with communities abroad.

Today, Lindah is the Australian Red Cross’ international health coordinator, where she works with nurses and other health professionals volunteering overseas.

She ensures those health professionals have received their vaccinations, addresses any pre-existing medical conditions and is also there to provide assistance in the event volunteers become ill while on assignment.

Lindah has also served as a Red Cross aid worker, where she worked at a weapon-wounded hospital in Pakistan and, in another assignment, also visited detainees in northern Iraq, where she was involved in ensuring prisoners had equitable access to healthcare and also provided analysis on detainees to government.

More recently, Lindah spent two months in Micronesia to help launch a grassroots-based health program.

Lindah describes the experiences as incredibly challenging but also very rewarding.

“One of the really amazing things is coming back to my original motivation which was getting close to people from countries that I would never have imagined I would come so close to,” she says.

“I remember a guy who was a teacher in a Madrassa, a conservative Islamic school; he had never met a foreigner before.

“He was brought up to think we were all really terrible monsters.”

However, after meeting Lindah and her colleagues, Lindah says he “completely re-thought his whole concept of the world”.

“Those break-through moments are just invaluable and completely amazing,” she says.

Originally from New Zealand, Lindah worked mostly in neurology and neurosurgery at the Auckland Hospital before moving to Australia in 2003.

She worked at the Emergency and Trauma Centre at Melbourne’s Alfred Hospital and also took on nursing coordinator roles with the Alfred at Home and the General Medical Unit programs.

In 2008, Lindah decided to pursue her dream of working for the Red Cross, and applied to become an aid worker.

Aid workers

Australian Red Cross aid workers support communities to achieve healthier and safer lives - from preventing illness caused by water-borne diseases to providing emergency medical care in conflict zones.

Each year, the Australian Red Cross sends more than 100 specialist aid workers, delegates such as Lindah, to provide urgent humanitarian assistance to people caught up in disasters and conflicts.

Aid workers are sent around the world in response to requests from the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement for short or longer term contracts.

Aid workers receive a salary, daily field allowance, superannuation, travel, health and life insurance, and are covered for all work related travel and accommodation.

During recruitment periods, details of the application process are published online.

Shortlisted applicants are assessed via an interview process including comprehensive reference checks and a federal police check.

Candidates must then complete a self-learning program about the Red Cross and Red Crescent online and are then invited to participate in the International Mobilisation and Preparation for ACTion (IMPACT) training course.

The six-day training program prepares aid workers to function effectively during field missions and covers topics ranging from understanding and working effectively with National Societies to international humanitarian law and its application, disaster management, movement components, personal security and communication, four-wheel drive and cross culture management.

IMPACT training costs $1000, including GST, and Australian Red Cross covers the cost of airfares to and from Melbourne from Australian capital cities.

Successful candidates are then registered as active on the Aid Worker Register - and are ready to be offered their first deployment.

Volunteers

Nurses and allied health professionals can also volunteer through the Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) program, managed by the Australian Government.

Volunteers are not sent to disaster, conflict or emergency situations. Instead, they’re sent in response to specific requests from host organisations.

Through the AVID program, the Australian Red Cross can send volunteers to Bhutan, Cambodia, Laos, Mongolia, the Philippines and Timor-Leste in Asia, to Fiji, Vanuatu and other islands in the Pacific, and to Kenya, Uganda and Botswana in Africa.

AVID volunteers work within local humanitarian or development organisations, including Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, to enhance the capacity and skills that already exist at the host organisation.

Volunteers are skilled and experienced professionals, most with five to 10 years’ experience in their profession, who may not always have international aid or Red Cross experience.

Most assignments are for 12 months but can range from three to 24 months depending on the work required and the host organisation’s needs.

AVID volunteers receive airfares, modest living and accommodation allowances, insurance, training and health, and security support while volunteers also have a local Red Cross contact in their country of assignment to offer support and assistance when needed.

All volunteer assignments are advertised online. Australian Red Cross first holds behavioural interviews to determine whether candidates can demonstrate the skills, experience and personal qualities required while police and reference checks are also carried out.

Selected candidates then attend pre-departure training, complete a medical clearance and receive the necessary vaccinations. They also participate in an orientation when arriving in the country for their assignment and receive language training where needed.

Advice

The volunteer program can serve as an ideal pathway for nurses and allied health professionals wanting to move into a career in humanitarian work.

“Volunteering can demonstrate their competency and also give them experience,” Lindah says.

“It’s a really nice way to get known within the movement.”

Lindah says health professionals can seek rural and remote work in Australia, or through the Australian Red Cross’ work in remote Aboriginal communities, to experience resource-poor locations and isolation typical of humanitarian work.

You can also match your education to the roles you are wanting to venture into. Lindah completed a Master of Public Health with an international stream through Monash University.

Lindah says people often tell her they would love to pursue humanitarian work overseas and then the reality sinks in.

“That reality being usually a year overseas, which is a huge step and I think people need to think quite seriously about the difference between medical tourism and proper humanitarian work,” she says.

Most importantly, Lindah says, nurses and allied health professionals wanting to help others overseas have to be willing.

“If you are willing, then you can find that resilience to cope with all of the challenges that come your way,” she says.

“The main things are, I think, to have maturity and being down to earth, being solutions-focused and being able to be calm in the face of an evolving situation.

“It’s also about being able to get along with all sorts of people.”

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Karen Keast

Karen Keast is a freelance health journalist who writes news and feature articles for HealthTimes.

Karen regularly writes for some of Australia’s leading health news websites and magazines.  In a media career spanning 20 years, Karen has worked as a senior journalist in newspapers and television. She has covered the grind of daily news and worked as a politics reporter at countless state and federal elections.

Since venturing into freelance writing five years ago, Karen has found her niche in writing about the health sector for editors, businesses and corporations.

Karen has interviewed the heads of peak health organisations in Australia and overseas, and written hundreds of news and feature articles covering the dedicated work of health professionals who tread the corridors of hospitals and health services, universities, aged care facilities and practices, day in and day out.

Follow Karen Keast on Twitter @stylemywords