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New Red Cross Community-based Health and First Aid Tools Use the “Learning by Doing” Approach
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By Melanie Caruso and Jean-Luc Martinage, IFRC, Geneva
October 27, 2009

The Red Cross has a long history of training communities in first aid and health promotion activities. In the 1990s, community-based first aid (CBFA) was the principal method of teaching first aid and health to communities.

Village health volunteers receive basic first aid training in Bawah Barat village, Indonesia.
Village health volunteers receive basic first aid training in Bawah Barat village, Indonesia.
Palang Merah Indonesia

Since July 2005, there has been an ongoing revitalization process to update CBFA into a more action-oriented and comprehensive approach. This process has included feedback provided by more than 35 Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, health professionals and other sector partners, the development of a new curricula, and workshops that have included participants from more than 70 National Societies to date.

As a result of these consultative opportunities, a new concept has emerged:  the community-based health and first aid (CBHFA) in action approach. These global materials were developed and field-tested in Indonesia with American Red Cross support.

Successes and challenges

Last week, the Indonesian Red Cross Society was hosting the global CBHFA in action Lessons Learned workshop in Jakarta, Indonesia. The meeting presented the first lessons learned in CBHFA implementation and discussed initial successes and challenges encountered as the next step in successfully rolling out the revitalized CBHFA in action gets underway. More than 15 Red Cross and Red Crescent societies took part in this event.

Recent feedback from Red Cross and Red Crescent societies currently involved in implementing CBHFA in action has been very encouraging.

 “Mainstreaming of our HIV and AIDS activities means CBHFA may be a useful methodology to retain volunteers and secure their continued involvement with Red Cross Red Crescent health and care programs,” says John Fleming, zone health and care coordinator for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in Southern Africa.

Empowering and interactive

“This approach and its supporting materials change the emphasis of the learning process from classroom-based to a more empowering and interactive `learning by doing` approach”, explains Dr. Ayham Alomari, head of programs for the American Red Cross in Indonesia.

“It proposes to move to a broader and more comprehensive approach to injury prevention and health promotion.”

“Healthy communities can realize their development goals better as they become less vulnerable. Health is inextricably linked to other factors such as peace, preparedness and the ability to respond to new challenges,” explains Dr Lita, head of health division, Indonesian Red Cross Society.

“Health programs need to work hand in hand with other development activities. By working to strengthen and empower communities, we can move closer towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals,” she adds.

Health priorities

CBHFA’s integrated and flexible approach trains and mobilizes volunteers from the community to carry out activities responding to the health priorities in the community.

“We believe that local volunteers understand better how a particular community lives and works. While they are promoting and maintaining good health behaviors, CBHFA’s learning-by-doing approach gives volunteers skills and knowledge that they can adapt and take action with their communities,” says Hannele Virtanen, health advisor for the Finnish Red Cross.

The CBHFA package consists of four CBHFA in action materials:

  • an implementation guide for program managers;
  • a facilitator’s guide;
  • a volunteer manual (learning and action for volunteers);
  • community tools (simple health messages to be used by volunteers and community members).

These guides, manuals and tools were created to reflect the insight and knowledge of those working within communities. Before being finalized and printed the materials were tested in several master facilitator workshops and piloted at the community level in Indonesia.

Develops capacity

The CBHFA in action tools bring together health promotion, injury prevention and first aid, disaster preparedness and response, and risk reduction into a harmonized, integrated and comprehensive community-based program that develops the capacity of volunteers and their communities.

The next phase of the process is to support the global use and implementation of the materials and approach. CBHFA master facilitator workshops have already taken place in Africa, Asia and the Pacific involving more than 70 National Societies so far and mobilizing a pool of CBHFA facilitators and team leaders worldwide. Other regions are in the process of planning similar trainings. The materials have already been translated into French, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Portuguese, Urdu and Bahasa, with more local languages forthcoming.

“The core of Red Cross Red Crescent work is at the community, done on a voluntary basis, and at the household level. CBHFA is an approach to help bring us back to the basics of our work, and really where the added value of volunteers is most needed and effective,” says Maud Amren, health advisor for the Swedish Red Cross.

Safer communities

A National Red Cross or Red Crescent society implementing CBHFA is making a commitment to long-term health programming. CBHFA is about building healthier and safer communities and a stronger volunteer network.

“Helping to secure good community health and first aid by training volunteers who live and work in the community will take us one big step closer to our vision,” says Grace Lo, IFRC unit manager, public health in the community.

“This comes at a time when the IFRC is advocating for governments to promote more first aid education and to make it available to all and not only to those who can afford it,” she concludes.

You can help the victims of countless crises around the world each year by making a financial gift to the American Red Cross International Response Fund, which will provide immediate relief and long-term support through supplies, technical assistance and other support to help those in need. Donations to the International Response Fund can be sent to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, D.C. 20013 or made by phone at 1-800-REDCROSS or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish) or online at www.redcross.org.

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