Trust in action
The daily dedication of volunteers is a key reason the Venezuelan Red Cross has been able to help people on all sides of the political divide.
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In the courtyard of a Venezuelan Red Cross branch in Caracas, Saipaci Aponte shares with new volunteers some of the first-aid skills she’s learned through her own training — and some of the lessons she’s learned on the streets as a rescue worker and as part of the first-aid team that helps people during civil disturbances.
“Is the patient conscious?” she asks two young volunteers, who are tasked with assessing the condition of another volunteer, playing the role of someone with severe stomach injuries. “She is unconscious,” one of them replies. Aponte follows up: “Did you put a bandage on her?”
This is not just a training session about bandages and first-aid procedure, however. It’s about a lot of other things the volunteers need to know. “Our role is to help whoever is in need,” Aponte says. “We go to the person who needs help most urgently. We provide them with treatment and then we move on to the next person. We don’t discriminate.”
“We help everyone regardless of race, religion, political affiliation. We take pride in being there to help.”
On-the-scene triage — at a road crash, natural calamity or large public gatherings — is never simple. During Venezuela’s recent unrest, volunteers have also had to rigorously reflect Fundamental Principles such as humanity and impartiality. This daily dedication to their work, and these principles, is one reason the National Society has been able to maintain the trust and become the main provider of humanitarian assistance in Venezuela.
Later the same day, Aponte reinforces this message as she leads a discussion among new volunteers on the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement’s principles of impartiality and neutrality. “Let’s say we have a conflict between two sides,” she tells the group. “There are injured on both sides. What do I do? I will help both sides, because we are neutral. It doesn’t matter who I sympathize with. We work with both sides.”
Time and dedication
More than words, volunteers like Aponte lead by example. They show not only how people can do great things but also that they are just normal individuals with hopes and dreams like any other person.
Aponte, for example, is studying to become a nurse at the Venezuelan Red Cross nursing academy. “It takes time and dedication to study,” she says.
“Just like with my rescue work. I go to university in the mornings, from 07:30 to 12:30. After I’ve finished classes, I go to the rescue team, where there is always something to do.”
She also often stops by an apartment building that is home to many elderly people whose children have left the country due to economic hard times. Here, Saipaci and other Red Cross volunteers provide psychosocial support. “I’ve been a volunteer for almost four years,” she says. “It’s been challenging, but it also has its rewards. Volunteering has helped me meet new people, people with different ideas. And you help people without receiving anything in return. Except a smile or a gesture of gratitude. And that’s very nice.”
When she’s not helping others, she is like most other young people. “When I’m not at the Red Cross or at nursing school, I’m at home. I watch movies on my computer. I may do my homework or some research. Or I go to my mother’s place or spend time with my sister, Ligia.
“I’d like to keep on studying. And move on to other careers like working in tourism or being a flight attendant. I’d like to get to know Venezuela and also visit other countries, like Colombia, France or Germany. Or Curaçao [a Caribbean island], I’d really like to go to Curaçao.”
Wherever Aponte’s path leads, she will certainly go far. And she will no doubt be helping others along the way. “We want to continue to improve,” she says of her work at the Red Cross. “We want to keep on helping and serving the Venezuelan people, so that their quality of life improves even in a small way.”
Giving something back
A 30-year-old medical doctor, Luis Lamus had to abandon his private practice in Caracas due to the constant power outages. So now, to make a living, he makes house calls. But he also goes out into communities as a volunteer to provide free health check-ups, supply medicines whenever possible and help people cope with preventable diseases. Once a week, he volunteers at the Red Cross hospital in Caracas, where he does free follow-up consultations. “We go out to both urban and rural communities. Sometimes we’ll have 50 to 60 patients to see in one morning, while at other times the number of patients may reach 100 or even 150,” he says, adding that he sees people with everything from high-blood pressure to severe skin rashes and diarrhoea due to poor water quality. “I trained for three years in the Red Cross, so this is my way of giving something back.”
Helpers who don’t let hard times stop them
In the port city of Maracaibo, in western Venezuela, Zuleidy Medina prepares for another day helping others, even as she deals with many of the same hardships as those she works to assist. “When there is electricity, I’ll wake up at 06:30, brush my teeth, take a shower and head out,” says Medina, a nurse and teacher by training. “When there is no electricity I wake up at 03:00 because the fan doesn’t work and it gets too hot. There are too many flies and you can’t sleep.” Often, there is no shower either. “If there is no power, there is no way to pump water.” One day recently, Medina headed to an indigenous community outside of the city to give an earthquake evacuation drill for schoolchildren. Along the way, she stopped at three supermarkets to buy food as the school has very little to feed the children. The first two shops were closed due to food shortages and electricity cuts. “We are all going through hard times,” she says. “But there are people in even more vulnerable conditions and we can do something to help them.”