It’s nice feeling indomitable again. After sinking to the depths of a mental parabola, I’ve come out the other side with a renewed vigour. I’ll run with this momentum for as long as I can. Maybe the runner’s high can keep me aloft. Anyway, let’s sprint to the next paragraph.
A friend was hosting an event for the Red Cross. It was the kind of thing I’d normally let pass me by, but a mutual friend was keen to go. My girlfriend and I were meeting her for lunch, so after the meal we went on down to check it out. You know what? I found it quite compelling. Here’s a thing. Compassion fatigue is a big force in my life. I scroll through Facebook and Reddit daily seeing just how terrible the world can be. I’ll see a number indicating fatalities or misplaced refugees and there’ll be no difference in my head between 20 and 200,000. Numbers are black and white, they mean very little to me without colour to flesh them out. I’ll hear about a tsunami in some developing nation and it’ll blend into all the other terrible stuff that happens to places that aren’t me and/or don’t play host to anyone I know/love. It’s easy to ignore atrocities when they’re so far from your day to day experience.
This event was fascinating. I dunno, maybe I was just in an inquisitive mood. I get like that sometimes. They had one or two doctors who’d worked in an ERU (or Emergency Response Unit) floating around a space that’d been outfitted with various screens and audio components. There were pictures of the Bangladesh environment in which the Red Cross had administered aid. Talking to one of the doctors, I was able to construct a greater understanding of the scope and scale of the organisation. I had no idea that the Red Cross had 190 different international organisations around the world. I was curious to hear how they distributed aid. Apparently they’ll often have specific jurisdictions or areas in which they’ll tend (Canada deals with North America, etc). Outside of this however, if they have the resources and are interested in sending aid to an area outside of their jurisdiction they’ll get in touch with national outposts closer to the affected area. They’ll then facilitate the type of aid the area needs and how to make it happen.
The ERUs I mentioned earlier are basically mobile hospitals. The setup cost of each is about $3,000,000. This allows for equipment, personnel and capacity for training. They’ll be prepared for setup, which takes around 12 hours altogether, then they’ll be all ready for operation. The idea isn’t just to get into an area, help for a bit, then leave. What they end up doing is creating a hospital, then skill sharing. They’ll pass on knowledge to local medical professionals (and to be clear, the doctor I talked to emphasised, these people have medical experience. The knowledge they’re passing on is how to use all the particular gear the Red Cross is equipped with. It’s not like they’re coming from a place of elitist ethnocentrism). The end result is that after the Red Cross have pulled out, they’ve ideally left a self-sustaining facility that can then skill share and pass on that knowledge.
What I thought was even more interesting is that there are a shortlist of ERU varieties and a limited number of them. Water and Sanitation, Logistics, IT/Telecommunications, etc. What’s more, specific countries have specific types of ERUs. They might only have one complete unit they can send out, but these countries do have experienced personnel locked and loaded to send off to other ERUs if required. So say Canada sends a Rapid Deployment Hospital, New Zealand could send their Communications team to help smooth the relief effort, disseminating vital information, etc.
I don’t want to come away from this experience sounding like I’ve become a walking evangelist for The Red Cross. My friend did make a point of emphasising that there are a myriad of various NGOs all doing valuable work throughout the world. That the notion of helping is a bigger cause than the PR of making sure you get the best photo ops. It was cool to see that some people (better people than I, even at my most indomitable) are giving so much of themselves to those in need. I doubt I’m about to start monthly donations, but it was fascinating to gain perspective on affairs that I usually would look past.
I don’t know that I’ll become a better human, but maybe I’ll listen to Pearl Jam’s “Better Man” a couple of times.