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REUTERS / Kai Pfaffenbach, Courtesy

Marid's day of tragedy

On 11 March, a series of explosions occurred during early morning rush hour in three different train stations in the Spanish capital Madrid, leaving almost 200 people dead and over 1,400 injured. Volunteers and staff from the Spanish Red Cross worked tirelessly to help those affected.

The Spanish Red Cross transported the injured to hospitals and deployed five mobile blood collection units in response to an appeal for blood donors. First aid kits, body bags, stretchers, blankets and other relief items were made available from Red Cross stocks.

Around 900 Red Cross volunteers provided medical care, psychological support and answered calls at a tracing centre. The Red Cross's coordination centre received more than 8,000 calls seeking information on relatives and offering help or blood donations.

The International Federation and its member National Societies showed their solidarity with the Spanish Red Cross. Juan Manuel Suárez del Toro, International Federation and Spanish Red Cross president, welcomed all the expressions of comfort and sympathy that had been received from around the world in response to this terrible tragedy.

Created at the instigation of the ICRC, the Geneva Humanitarian Forum (GHF) is an association whose keystone is an Internet portal, in English, open to all.

"Geneva is home to the largest concentration of humanitarians in the world. But do they really interact and work together on issues of common concern to the humanitarian community? Similarly, do the humanitarians and the academics, who show a growing interest in humanitarian affairs, put their resources in common to tackle some of the big issues of our time? Not often enough! The ambition of the GHF is to help Geneva pull together all these talents in order to become the centre of excellence in humanitarian affairs," says the ICRC's Jean-Michel Monod, president of the GHF. The GHF was established in July 2003 with the support of the ICRC, the Geneva International Academic Network (GIAN), the Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum and the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue and is partly financed by the Swiss Confederation. In February, a first electronic conference took place on the theme of water and conflicts.

For more information about the services provided by GHF, visit:

©Rosemarie North /
International Federation

AIDS prevention in Myanmar

The life of a long-distance truck or bus driver can be a lonely one. Myanmar drivers can end up in the middle of the night at some junction on the border with Thailand or China, with hours to kill until their vehicle is serviced or until it's time for their next run. With cheap sex on offer nearby, it's no wonder the men are in one of the high-risk groups for HIV/AIDS. "Drivers are working away from home. Many have multiple sex partners and they're unlikely to use condoms," says Tun Aung Shwe of the Myanmar Red Cross Society, explaining why the organization chose to work with drivers.

It's hard to know how many people in Myanmar are HIV-positive. The government says the number is 177,000, but UNICEF estimates that the figure is around half a million.

To motivate bus and truck drivers to keep safe, the Red Cross relies on peer group pressure. The organization trains drivers and people they work closely with, such as ticket sellers, to lead small group discussions with their colleagues about HIV/AIDS.

To date, the Red Cross has reached 2,400 out of an estimated 3,400 drivers, aged between 25 and 55, at the bus and truck terminals in the capital, Yangon, formerly known as Rangoon.

In June 2003, the Red Cross expanded the HIV/AIDS peer education programme to bus and truck terminals in remote regions and is also taking it to jail wardens, trainee police officers and civil servants in Yangon.

©Marko Kokic /
International Federation

Sweetening the sting of measles

Did you know that there are African killer bees in Texas, USA? The HoneyKids, along with their organizer (and uncle) Virgil Grandfield, do. The HoneyKids live in the Texas hill country near San Antonio and they raise and breed honeybees, of which about half are killer bees. Grandfield divides his time between working as an overseas delegate for the Canadian Red Cross, and living in Texas. During his time in Texas, he also organizes the HoneyKids, and has recently involved them with fund-raising for a measles initiative. They sell jars of honey and donate half of the proceeds to the measles initiative that helps vaccinate African children against measles.

The motto on their honey jars is, Gloria in tenui, a phrase from the Roman poet Virgil's Georgics on the art of beekeeping, which means "glory in the little things". This group is by no means doing something little; in two months they have raised almost US$1,000 for the measles initiative, which is enough money to vaccinate 1,000 children. Grandfield recalls their first celebration after their first sale in September 2003 when they "shouted their heads off, 'We saved over 200 kids! Over 200 kids!'" That day the HoneyKids raised over US$200 for the measles initiative.

©Thierry Gassmann / ICRC

Playing for children in war

Initiated in 1997, the ICRC and Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) partnership is taking a majorstep forward by associating the ICRC's children in war initiative with the European championship tournament, EURO 2004, in Portugal. Some 16 national teams are involved in this prestigious football competition. A cumulative audience of 7 billion people are expected to watch the 31 matches from 12 June to 4 July 2004. This unique opportunity allows the ICRC to highlight the need to protect children living in conflict areas. The focus will be on reuniting children with their families, assisting them in their physical and psychological recovery, meeting their basic needs, and campaigning against the use of child soldiers.

Pierluigi Collina — one of football's leading referees — was appointed last November. Three more international referees followed his lead — Anders Fisk (Sweden), Markus Merk (Germany) and Lubos Michel (Slovakia). Referees play an essential role in ensuring that players on the field respect the rules of the game. Likewise, the ICRC strives to ensure that parties to a conflict respect the rules of war, partly to limit the impact of conflict on children. The pool of referees will personify respect for the rules of football, providing a powerful international channel for this vital humanitarian message throughout the competition. The UEFA/ICRC campaign to protect children in war is gaining momentum across Europe. National Red Cross Societies whose countries have qualified are joining the campaign. These include Britain, Denmark, Sweden and, of course, Portugal. Initially, solidarity centred on a football event. Now solidarity is taking on a new dimension as other members of the Red Cross "family" - like the Icelandic Red Cross - rallies to the cause, even though they did not qualify for EURO 2004.

©International Federation

Caring for one's own

A fund to address the unprecedented challenge that HIV/AIDS is posing to the work of the Red Cross Red Crescent has been launched by the International Federation and represents another step forward in the organization's efforts to support its volunteers and staff living with AIDS.

The Masambo Fund will provide access to antiretroviral therapy to Red Cross Red Crescent volunteers and staff, many of whom are working on the HIV/AIDS front line, but are dying through lack of treatment. "We estimate that there must be at least 200,000 people in our organization who are living with HIV/AIDS. This poses an enormous challenge — not only to our ability to carry out our humanitarian mandate, but also to the survival of our organization," said Razia Essack-Kauaria, International Federation Governing Board member and secretary general of the Namibian Red Cross. "This fund is an emergency measure for us until global efforts to increase access to treatment are truly up and running. We simply cannot afford to lose any more of our people," she adds.

The fund is named after a long-serving staff member of the Zimbabwe Red Cross's home-based care programme which provides support to families living with HIV/AIDS. Masambo died in late 2001 but it was her story, presented to the International Federation's General Assembly shortly afterwards, that led to the decision to create such a fund.

It is hoped that with a minimum of contributions, at least 300 people will be helped to receive treatment initially. Each person will be guaranteed five years of drug supplies with priority given to people in countries where there is no other funding option.

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