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In the Maldives, the Birth of a Movement
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Zach Abraham
November 15, 2007

A new volunteer in the Maldives tries on her vest.
A new volunteer in the Maldives tries on her vest.
(Photo: Zach Abraham/American Red Cross)
Renowned for its unique blend of island culture and Islamic tradition, the Maldives is a hidden treasure of immense beauty and serenity.Yet beneath this tranquility rests the constant threat of flooding and other natural disasters.

In December 2004, that threat became all too real when the South Asia tsunami caused flooding on all but nine of the 200 inhabited islands of the Maldives, leaving 12,000 people homeless. Nearly one-third of the 360,000 residents of the Maldives lost loved ones, homes, possessions and/or livelihoods.

Following the tsunami, the American Red Cross, as part of the global Red Cross and Red Crescent response, provided immediate emergency assistance. Now, three years into the recovery phase, the Red Cross is focusing on long-term development to empower communities. In the Maldives, the Red Cross Psychological Support Program (PSP) is emphasizing volunteer training for one of the few countries in the world that does not have a Red Cross or Red Crescent national society.

History in the Making

On September 12, that training made history when 11 volunteers from FaresMathoda—one of the 1,190 islands that comprise the Maldives—signed the Code of Conduct of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. The 11 are the first local Red Crescent volunteers in the history of the Maldives.

“These volunteers mark the beginning of a movement,” said Dr. Satyabrata Dash, psychological support program manager for the American Red Cross in the Maldives. “We are participating in something remarkable—the birth of a new volunteer society.”

The 11 volunteers first emerged as leaders in May 2007, when a series of ocean swells struck the Maldives, damaging an estimated 68 islands across the country. The flooding forced 1,600 people to evacuate their houses and take shelter in neighboring communities, on boats and even on rooftops until the water subsided.

Realizing the need for help, the 11 volunteers responded immediately by mobilizing their communities to aid the affected families. Through their leadership, the communities worked together to successfully evacuate flooded areas, organize emergency food and water supplies, and provide psychological first aid to affected individuals.

“Because of their work and help from the neighboring communities, the affected residents didn’t require external assistance to meet their immediate needs,” Dr. Dash said. “We needed to recognize their efforts and honor them as the first official Red Crescent volunteers so they could continue to share their leadership with the community.”

Community members were so impressed with how the volunteers took charge that they requested additional trainings so more people could become Red Crescent volunteers.

“Leadership is at the heart of what the Red Cross stands for,” Dr. Dash concluded. “It’s our goal to instill that leadership in every volunteer we train—volunteers we hope will carry on the lifesaving work of the future Red Crescent society here in the Maldives.”

The American Red Cross helps people prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies. Last year, almost a million volunteers and 35,000 employees helped victims of almost 75,000 disasters; taught lifesaving skills to millions; and helped U.S. service members separated from their families stay connected. Almost 4 million people gave blood through the Red Cross, the largest supplier of blood and blood products in the United States. The American Red Cross is part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. An average of 91 cents of every dollar the Red Cross spends is invested in humanitarian services and programs. The Red Cross is not a government agency; it relies on donations of time, money, and blood to do its work.





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