alone and ailing
Small comforts for aged refugees
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
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
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.
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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