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Source of all life

Afghanistan’s karezes are the key to survival

“Water is life”, declares the Malek (chief) of the village of Baraki Rajan. Behind him, the village gleams like a pearl in its green setting of irrigated fields and orchards. To obtain water, the villagers have dug underground channels — known as karezes — which burrow several kilometres deep into the heart of the mountain. “Traditionally the whole village helped to keep the system going,” explains the Malek. “But with the war, the bombing by Soviet MIGs and the exodus to Pakistan, the karezes have been neglected for years.”

In this region, which has changed hands three times in the last year, the ICRC has begun a programme to rehabilitate the karezes and irrigation channels. Since work started deep in the mountain, a thin stream of water has begun to flow and, with it, hope has returned. The precious water will enable the village to extend the area under cultivation, improve the yield thanks to good irrigation, and even, in certain plots of land, reap several harvests a year. Very soon, the inhabitants of this corner of the desert so long ravaged by war will once again be able to provide for their own basic needs. Similar programmes are under way in the Loghar, Wardak, Ghazni and Kabul provinces.

François Grunewald


Red Cross in my mind

It must be the largest awareness-raising event ever undertaken by a National Society. Entitled “The Red Cross in my mind”, the painting and essay writing com-petition organised by the Red Cross Society of China in collaboration with the ICRC and with the support of the Hong Kong Red Cross and the Macao Red Cross attracted entries from more than 7.6 million young people across China, Hong Kong and Macao.

“The influence of the competition reaches well beyond the millions of participants,” says Gu Yingqi, Executive Vice-President of the Red Cross Society of China. “Because their parents, teachers, sisters, brothers, classmates and friends have all learned about the competition and have thereby come to some understanding and knowledge of the Movement.” A calendar (pictured here) has been produced, as well as a collection of the most outstanding works, with texts in Chinese and English, which can be obtained from
the ICRC.


For the third year running, the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society (SLRCS) sponsored a painting competition to assist children displaced by conflict in the north and east of the country. Some 15,000 children aged between 5 and 15 who have been living in camps for the past five years participated last year by illustrating the theme “as I see the world”. Twelve of the best paintings were selected and printed as greeting cards. “All of the paintings depicted the inner feelings of these most unfortunate children who are suffering through no fault of their
own,” says Gamini Pinnalawatta, Assist-ant Director of Dev-elopment at SLRCS. Proceeds from the sale of the greeting cards will be used to provide basic educational needs of the children.


Old system, new ideas

Development in Viet Nam is moving at a tremendous pace with the political reforms begun in 1986 and the switch to a market economy that followed on its heels. Among the telltale signs of fast-paced change is the emergence of new and exciting ideas from old, sometimes outdated, systems. This is certainly the case in a fruitful cooperation that’s sprung up between a group of students at a medical school in Hanoi and a primary health-care project sup-ported by the Danish Red Cross.

“The curriculum at the medical school is ages old. It dates back to the time of the French,” says Mai Nguyen, primary health-care coordinator for the Vietnamese-Danish project. It takes a “top down” approach to health care that is not at all in keeping with current trends and needs — especially in Viet Nam.

“The health-care system more or less collapsed when the financial support disappeared as a result of market reforms,” Mai Nguyen explains, “and the need for a community-based system became critical. A group of 20 teachers and students at the medical school in Hanoi formed a Community Health Research Unit (CHRU) and I first knew about them back in 1990 when I was primary health care coordinator for another agency.”

Nguyen stayed in contact with the CHRU when she started working for the Red Cross, and today five medical students are involved in the primary health-care project on a part-time basis. “Our philosophy is the same: to strengthen the capacity of the rural communities and to give people sufficient skills and knowledge to improve their conditions on a long-term basis.”

Lasse Norgaard


Extraordinary evacuation

115-year-old woman relocates

On Christmas Day 1995, two women boarded an ICRC twin-engined Beechcraft in Senaki, Georgia. Edusi Oniani and her daughter had been cut off from the rest of their family when conflict broke out in Abkhazia in 1993. They had remained on the other side of the front line until the ICRC was able to assist in their relocation.

What singled out this mother and daughter from other passengers though was, oddly enough, their birth dates. The daughter had been born in 1915 and Edusi in...1880! When ICRC delegates expressed polite doubts about her year of birth, Edusi replied that the old Czarist officials had indeed made a mistake when issuing her birth certificate; in fact she had been born five years earlier.

“When we look at her, we can hardly believe our eyes,” ICRC field officer David Akhobadze says. “Imagine, this tiny woman was born when the Red Cross was still in its infancy. She has witnessed three revolutions and has 73 descendants spanning four generations.” Not surprisingly, given such perspective, Edusi seems little fazed by her recent tribulations. “Sometimes I talk with shadows of the past,” she says, “but present day life interests me as well.”


A day to remember

On 8 May 1996, Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies throughout the world once again marked the occasion of World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day with a variety of events and publicity campaigns. This year was different from others, however, in that each National Society celebrated according to its own needs and priorities instead of focusing on a single, agreed-upon theme as has been done in the past. For their part, the Federation and the ICRC produced a series of posters portraying the Movement’s Fundamental Principles. Black and white photographs illustrate each principle, which is briefly described. The posters and an accompanying booklet are available to all National Societies in English, French, Spanish and Arabic.




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