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Launched on World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day on May 8, the year-long MyStory project shares personal experiences with the Movement.

My Red Cross Red Crescent story

Interview with an Indonesian Red Cross Society nurse, now working for the Japanese Red Cross Society.

The scene outside the bus window was apocalyptic. It resembled the city of Hiroshima in the aftermath of the atomic bomb in August 1945. Where a town once stood was now detritus. The frames of shattered buildings dotted a flattened landscape of rubble, twisted metal, upturned cars and boats.
Suwarti, dressed in her Japanese Red Cross uniform, sat and stared, expressionless, at the carnage. “It’s upsetting. I’m speechless,” she told a journalist filming her for a TV news report.

The Indonesian nurse had travelled to the town of Yamada, in north-east Japan, with five colleagues from the Himeji Red Cross hospital, more than 800 kilometres away. It was April 2011 and around six weeks after a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck under the Pacific Ocean and sent towering tsunami waves crashing into communities along the Tohoku coastline.

The destruction brought back memories for Suwarti of her experiences in the Indonesian city of Banda Aceh, following the devastating tsunami of 26 December 2004. She arrived there with a relief team from her public hospital in the capital, Jakarta, about a week after tectonic plates ruptured off the coast. “Another team had already started treating survivors at a makeshift evacuation centre, but there was a shortage of water, food and medicine,” says the 36-year-old Java native, sitting in a meeting room in her Himeji hospital.

“It took about two weeks to come to terms with some of the shocking scenes I saw,” she says of that time almost a decade ago. “I felt tired and kept thinking about all the people crying and those who had lost their families and houses, and didn’t know what to do.”

Seven years later, in Japan’s Iwate Prefecture in 2011, Suwarti found herself at a high school that was serving as an evacuation centre for 400 local residents.

“At the evacuation centre, there were six high-school students who lost their parents in the tsunami. I spoke several times to one who was suffering a lot. She thanked me for coming and told me she wanted to become a nurse like me. I also talked to many elderly women, for I understood how important it was to talk to people as part of this kind of care.”

Suwarti already had a deep appreciation for the value of psychosocial support after her experience in Aceh in 2004. “When we arrived in Aceh, people were appreciative of us,” she says. “But more than just treating injuries, it was important to talk and hold people. Mental support, I realized, was a vital part of being a nurse there.”

Before heading out to respond to the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, Suwarti was prepared. She received disaster relief training, including guidance on how to counsel survivors and the bereaved, and she completed another course at her hospital in the summer of 2013.

Suwarti’s determination to help in Tohoku can be traced back to her experiences in Aceh, where she learned that the Japanese Red Cross had sent a medical team to the area.

“When my country was in need, lots of different countries helped us, including the Japanese Red Cross,” she says. “In fact, the head of the ER [emergency response] here [in Himeji] spent a year and a half in Aceh and the head surgeon went there for a year. So I felt that if I could pass the national exam and had the chance, I would really like to go and help those people in Tohoku.”

Suwarti first arrived in Japan in 2008 on a nursing programme set up by Japan and Indonesia. Despite her extensive ER and intensive care experience in her home country, she still had to pass Japan’s national nursing exam. The biggest hurdle was learning Japanese, including medical terminology.

Suwarti continued to study intensively for the five-hour nursing exam and finally, after her third attempt, she became one of only 16 foreign nurses — from nearly 400 — to pass.

In 2013, Suwarti shared her experiences in Tohoku with trainee nurses and staff at one of Indonesia’s top nursing schools, and she has been asked to help produce an official disaster preparedness and response manual.

“In 2004, we weren’t prepared for that size of disaster and had no experience of disaster relief. Therefore, we were grateful to receive support from the Japanese Red Cross. But Indonesia still needs to learn more about disaster relief. I’m very happy to have joined the Japanese Red Cross where I can learn these kinds of skills.

“Disaster can strike at any time and affect anyone, so as a nurse, I felt I had a duty to help in Iwate. I also now feel that I would like to do whatever I can to help, should another disaster strike in the future,” she says. “As a member of the Red Cross, I strongly feel it’s my duty to help anyone affected by disaster — no matter what their ethnicity, religion or nationality.”

By Nick Jones
Nick Jones is a freelance journalist based in Tokyo.


Photo: ©Nick Jones/IFRC

My Red Cross Red Crescent story

Amir Barazande
Youth volunteer with the Red Crescent Society of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mashhad city, north-eastern Iran.

Although I’m only 20, the Red Crescent has already played a very important role in my life. When I was 14, my friend’s mother had a serious asthma attack while we were walking together in the street. She had forgotten her inhaler, but luckily  the quick first-aid actions of a passer-by saved her life. It was a very frightening moment but also an important one, as the very next day, my friend and I decided to volunteer with local branch of the Iran Red Crescent and learn more about helping people. For me, being a volunteer with the Iran Red Crescent also gives me a chance to be part of an international network. In recent years, I feel that Iran has become isolated and misunderstood by many countries, so when the Iran Red Crescent sends help to disasters overseas and is able to work with other National Societies, I feel it’s an opportunity to show people that we are more than what is presented in the media; that what is portrayed of us, of our people, is not accurate at all. I think being part of the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement is important for bringing down such political and cultural barriers and prejudices.


Photo: ©Red Crescent Society of the Islamic Republic of Iran

My Red Cross Red Crescent story

Zeljko Filipovic
Deputy head of the ICRC’s economic security unit. From Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Now living in Geneva, Switzerland.

By a twist of fate, almost half of my life has been shaped by my work with the ICRC. In 1992, when war broke out in the former Yugoslavia, I avoided being drafted by taking a job with the chamber of commerce in the small town of Pale that was considered a Serb stronghold. Although Pale was not shelled regularly like Sarajevo, there was a large influx of internally displaced people and basic supplies became scarce. Money was tight, so I also opened a small video shop to make ends meet. It was thanks to the shop that I first met the ICRC delegates who were renting films to pass time during the nightly curfews. At that time, I had only heard a little bit about the Red Cross in Bosnia.  I remember, growing up, that on 8 May we could buy special Red Cross stickers and pins shaped like little drops of blood, but other than that I didn’t know much about them.

As the conflict continued, I was persuaded to apply to the ICRC as a driver. My father was a car mechanic so, growing up, I had a spent a lot time helping in his workshop under our house. I was offered the job and before I knew it, I was driving to pick up an ICRC delegate who was waiting at the separation line in the Muslim-majority town of Goradze, a protected enclave in eastern Bosnia. It was my first day with the ICRC and I found myself being stopped at the border with nothing but the vehicle and an enormous high-frequency radio. I remember how nervous I felt as the border guards teased me and tested my reaction but as soon as I was waved through, I realized the power and respect that the Red Cross emblem can have.

After the Dayton Peace Agreement was signed in 1995, I continued to work with the ICRC and started to travel outside of Bosnia on international relief missions in Eritrea, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan and the Russian Federation. In another twist of fate, I met my wife Flore, an ICRC protection delegate, when we were on mission in Eritrea. Our daughter Mia was born a few years later in Indonesia. We got married when we were in northern Caucasus.


Photo: ©ICRC

My Red Cross Red Crescent story

Kum Ju Ho
Operational development and youth focal point at the IFRC’s South-East Asia regional office. From the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

It was after I saw the consequences of a terrible flood that I applied to work with the Red Cross of the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea. In 1997, I was a student of international relations and, as part of my course, we learnt about the work of humanitarian organizations. I clearly remember one day my classmates and I boarded a train in Pyongyang and travelled to some remote villages, far in the north of the country. In 1995, a terrible flood had destroyed most of the water systems installed during the 1960s and a lot of the roads to the villages were also gone. I will never forget the hardship of the people we saw there. We had all heard about the situation from other people, but it was very sad to see with our own eyes the farmers and their families, even children, walking for hours just to bring back heavy buckets of clean drinking water. However, in some of the villages, we saw the Red Cross was already there helping and had put in taps, pumps and water tanks. It really left an impression on me and by the time I took the train back, I knew that once I graduated, I wanted to work for them. I started with the National Society as a health officer and have been working with the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement ever since.


Photo: ©DPRK Red Cross





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