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Tell us about your previous background humanitarian work? Do you think your years as a delegate prepared you for your current position as president of New Zealand Red Cross?
Prior to joining Red Cross I spent a few years in the outback areas of Australia on an Aboriginal reserve and in the Torres Strait Islands before moving to a coastal city in North Queensland. I grew up in multi-cultural societies in Malaysia, Singapore and England as well as in New Zealand, so have always had an affinity with people and their culture and a wish to learn about them.
In 1983 I went on my first mission with New Zealand Red Cross as a nurse in a refugee camp on the Thai-Kampuchean (now Cambodian) border. That first mission more than lived up to my expectations. I learnt the principles of war surgery, shelter provision and building, allocation of the latrine areas, rubbish collection, water and food provision, security, fuel and health.
I discovered that being a delegate could be fun and rewarding while following humanitarian principles. This led to a life-long wish to continue to work with, and for Red Cross, which I did - as a nutrition delegate with the International Committee of the Red Cross and now as a member and President of New Zealand Red Cross.
New Zealand Red Cross is involved in such a diverse range of national and international programmes. What do you think New Zealand Red Cross’ role in the community is?
As a membership-based organisation with 88 branches and approximately 15,000 members we are able to identify and meet the needs within the community. Our connections and wide reach provide us with the deep seated knowledge that leads and defines the work we do.
New Zealand Red Cross has developed a trained network of members in disaster response, however it is also important that we develop preparedness for a disaster too. Our mission states we will respond to any vulnerability so no project or programme is ‘off the table’. If an unmet need is identified and we are the best placed to meet the need, we will. In this way, the response can be targeted and effective – a genuine Red Cross response.
With devastating disasters like the Nepal earthquake and Tropical Cyclone Pam, what is New Zealand Red Cross’ role in times of disaster and conflict?
As part of the international Red Cross with 189 National Societies we work closely and support one-another during disaster and conflict through skilled personnel and funding. Just as New Zealand Red Cross is working to support Vanuatu and Nepal, other Red Cross National Societies around the world have supported us in times of need, for example following the earthquakes in Canterbury.
Last year alone we responded to 21 emergencies at home and overseas. Every emergency is different and we send skilled and trained personnel, such as nurses, IT specialists and security experts, to areas where support is needed. However, more importantly, we build the resilience of communities so that each crisis can be recovered from quickly.
You’ve been with New Zealand Red Cross for more than 30 years, what drives your passion and commitment to the organisation?
Red Cross is more than just a relief organisation, it brings all aspects of basic needs to people under its humanitarian umbrella and international humanitarian law.
Being able to contribute is a feeling I have experienced that lasts a lifetime. Examples include rehabilitating a malnourished, semi-conscious child and seeing them become energetic and cheeky three weeks on; seeing countries move beyond conflict with increased physical and economic security; and delivering a Red Cross message from a detainee to a family, saying that he is alive. This feeling is addictive and drives a passion and commitment that never diminishes.
The Red Cross Red Crescent Movement is guided by seven Fundamental Principles, what do these principles mean to you?
The Fundamental Principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality mean we are guided to embrace humanitarian values and respect human dignity; all of which lead to a better world. From my first mission in a refugee camp, to those that allowed cross-line activities, I have learnt the importance of the principles, it was our duty to care for all wounded, regardless of nationality or attributed faction and everyone was treated based on need.
It is important to respect and embody the principles, the mission and vision of Red Cross everywhere. These principles have shaped who I am today, I am very proud to promote the principles to one and all.