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Elderly, alone and ailing

Small comforts for aged refugees in Croatia

In a collective centre in northern Croatia, Barica, 75, shares one of the “geriatric” rooms with seven other elderly, immobile women. The little corner of the room she occupies is a far cry from the large, two-storey home she and her late husband worked their whole lives to build. Barica’s hometown, Petrinja, was occupied about four years ago while she was receiving treatment at a nearby rehabilitation centre.

Wheelchair-bound, Barica was transferred to this collective centre in June 1994 and has been relying on the “mercy of strangers” to provide the care she needs. She is not alone. Almost a third of the people here are over the age of 60 and preliminary data gathered by the Federation indicates that one out of five refugees or displaced persons in collective centres is over the age of 60.

It is clear that the elderly have specific needs which are unable to be met in the present environment. The facilities in which they are accommodated are deteriorating after several years of use. The sanitary and heating systems in most of the collective centres are inadequate. Cold, damp rooms and the lack of hot water contribute to the weakening of already fragile physical and mental health. Many elderly people have undergone traumatic experiences in the war and have lost or been separated from spouses, children and grandchildren.

While doubt still hangs over the long-term prospects of these elderly refugees and displaced persons in Croatia, the Federation, together with the Croatian Red Cross, is running a number of programmes catering to their physical and psychological needs.

One of these, the Social Welfare Programme, aims to reduce the effects of trauma, such as anxiety, hopelessness, depression and a sense of helplessness. Projects include individual and group counselling, organising meal deliveries to elderly or bed-ridden beneficiaries and arranging excursions, as well as a number of social activities, such as chess clubs, drama groups, woodwork and wicker and carpentry workshops.

Sadly, this programme that has given some sense of purpose back to the lives of so many, is threatened with closure owing to lack of funding. At the end of the year, the Federation will have to curtail new activities, leaving elderly beneficiaries once again to experience the trauma of abandonment. l

“Weapons of war, tools of peace”

On 5-6 December, the Inter-national Centre for Humanitarian Reporting, an organisation which facilitates contacts between the media and humanitarian agencies, is staging a symposium in Geneva. Timed to coincide with the 26th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, the meeting will focus primarily on the need for better-quality reporting of wars and humanitarian issues, but also on whether there is an effective role for both the military and the private sector in international humanitarian relief.

In particular, debates will centre on the need for more practical and cooperative approaches among the different players — the media, aid agencies, advo-cacy groups, policy-makers, the military and the private sector — that go beyond mere reactive or short-term solutions.

Four plenary panels, grouping experts from all the above fields, will deal with such subjects as: the media and conflict avoidance: should TV stop wars?; the military and humanitarian relief: can soldiers be aid workers?; public relations and aid: does humanitarianism still figure in the scramble to sell the message?; and the private sector in humanitarian relief: has the day of Relief Incorporated arrived?

The symposium hopes to attract an international audience from different interested sectors — including journalists and representatives from aid organisations, governments, the private sector and policy institutes.

Equal rights

A comprehensive approach to rehabilitation

The Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS)* operates a dynamic and comprehensive programme for disabled people in Cairo. Ain Shams Centre for rehabilitation, founded in April 1984, has grown from one person working with six clients in two adjacent apartments to more than 100 people working with over 200 clients in some 20 apartments today.

“The philosophy at work in the centre is that the rights of a person who is disabled are exactly the same as those of anyone else,” says Dr Jean Calder, the centre’s director, who travelled to Cairo from Lebanon in mid-1983. She was followed a year later by three orphaned and disabled children cared for by the PRCS, thus beginning the very special small residential care service.

Medical, social, educational and vocational services are provided at Ain Shams and, in a brief walk through the centre, one can find a man paralysed by polio making a wheelchair in one of the workshops; a woman who is deaf preparing meals in the cafeteria; a student working on a research project in the library; a group of rehabilitation workers and a physical therapist helping children with cerebral palsy to walk; social workers updating files or speaking with a parent.

Dr Fathi Arafat, President of the PRCS, would like to see the Ain Shams rehabilitation centre used as a model for PRCS work in this field. “We want people who are disabled to be able to take care of themselves,” he says. “We want them to feel they are important and productive members of their society and, finally, we want them to be able to discover and develop their own talents.”

The centre is funded by the PRCS, but it also relies on outside contributions to support demands for its wide-ranging services. In recent years, political developments have made it more difficult to meet financial requirements. “We’ve had a rough year,” explains Dr Calder, “because so many of our staff members have gone to Gaza.” A percentage of the clients at Ain Shams are Palestinian, but the majority are Egyptian. l

*The Palestine Red Crescent Society
is a National Society in formation.

Disaster hits: the poorer, the harder

American Red Cross aids flood victims

When torrential rain and flooding hit the central part of the United States in May, some of the country’s poorest communities were left bereft.

In the midst of the destruction was East St. Louis, an old railroad town situated where the Missouri and Mississippi rivers meet. With many of its residents already living below the poverty line and houses and public facilities in a state of disrepair, it is not surprising that this town was one of the hardest hit. Sewers clogged and drainage ditches overflowed, while some 750 buildings were damaged or destroyed.

In response to the crisis, the St. Louis Bi-State Chapter of the American Red Cross worked closely with the Emergency Services and Disaster Agency of the City of East St. Louis.

Volunteers began by providing emergency shelter and food for affected families. More than 1,800 of East St. Louis’s 40,000 residents received American Red Cross assistance. “The rain and flooding was unexpected and we had to move fast to provide help,” explains Ed Finley, supervisor of the Red Cross East St. Louis office.

Many of the problems caused by the rains were partly caused by pre-disaster conditions. Roofs that had not been replaced or repaired for the last twenty-five years broke under the force of the rains. A new roof would have survived, but poverty level owners didn’t have the money for regular maintenance. Flood insurance is available in East St. Louis, but few residents take advantage of it due to more pressing priorities.

Other areas along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers were also flooded. In all, 13 states and some 47,000 families were affected. Over 4,400 Red Cross disaster relief workers based in 48 Red Cross service centres provided individual assistance to stricken families. l

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