Thursday, 16 February 2012

Personal reflections on the 75 year history of a Red Cross Society

I first got involved with the Sri Lanka Red Cross in 1975 when I was posted in Geneva with the then League of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, now the IFRC. One of my senior colleagues was Dr. Kingsley Seevaratnam from Jaffna, Sri Lanka, and he told me regularly about the outstanding work of the Sri Lanka Red Cross. Then in early 1977 I did some post graduate studies in Australia in disaster management, and on the course I become very friendly with Eddie (E.B) Abeysekera who was the President of the Sri Lanka Red Cross from 1977 to 1987. Eddie and I became close friends over a 3 month period and even watched part of the Centennial Cricket Test between Australia and England over a long weekend in Melbourne.

The first relief operation I was involved in was back in 2001 when I was the IFRC head of region for South Asia. Working with my good friend Gamini Pinnulawatta from Sri Lanka Red Cross when we conducted an assessment, and found 300,000 people living in the district facing food shortages and ill health. Nearly 39,000 were found to be highly vulnerable in the worst drought in 50 years.

I was next involved with a floods and landslides operation in 2003, after heavy rains which lashed the districts of Ratnapura, Kalutara, Galle, Matara and Hambantota on May 17 triggered floods and landslides leaving death and destruction in its wake. Over 250 people died and over 160,000 families have been affected in six districts.
Tragically, I arrived in Sri Lanka shortly after the hugely devastating Tsunami occured on 26 December 2004 and helped set up the massive tsunami relief and early recovery operation. I arrived again in June 2010 and helped draw the Tsunami operation to a close and am currently  supporting post conflict recovery and  flood recovery operations. Therefore last Monday, 13 February 2012, was a significant ocassion for me to join Sri Lanka Red Cross volunteers on their 75th Anniversary, many of who I have worked with over the years.
It was also a privilige to read out a congratulatory message from Tadateru Konoe, President of IFRC, to the whole assembly.
 I recommend you to have a look at this stirring video to see what amazing work one Red Cross society has done over 75 years.

Here is a little more history.

To the backdrop of a malaria outbreak in 1935 the need for a volunteer based organization to aid in times of natural and manmade disasters was evident. Since the then British Government struggled to curtail the epidemic, steps were taken to mobilize the formation of the “Ceylon Central Council Branch of the British Red Cross Society”.

This newly born volunteer organization was hard at work by providing services that were costly at that time for no fee.
Twenty five out of 250 students from lower income families who were given Red Cross scholarships for two years of higher education. They are from families that often see children drop out of higher education due to financial reasons. Photo: IFRC/SLRCS

In 1943, a large sum of money was sent to Bengal in assistance of the people affected by famine.
Sri Lanka Red Cross Society was born on the shoulders of dedicated volunteers. With volunteer involvement a Hospital Supply Association was formed. System of First Aid Post was organized. Colombo division of volunteers worked at the General Hospital during a strike of hospital attendants. A hospital library service was run at the General hospital, Colombo.

After the gaining independence The Ceylon Central Council branch of British Red Cross Society was dissolved on 31st March 1949. The very next day on 1st April 1949 the Ceylon Red Cross Society was formed. On 27th November 1951 by a Royal Decree (Charter) of his Majesty King George VI of England the Ceylon Red Cross Society was incorporated in to the constitution.

In 1952 at the recommendation of the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC), the League of Red Cross (International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies- IFRC) recognized the “Ceylon Red Cross” as the National Society of Ceylon at its 22nd Session of the Board of Governors meeting at Toronto Canada.

Young Sri Lanka Red Cross volunteers proudly wear their special 75 year anniversary caps. Photo: IFRC/SLRCS

Blood donor recruitment service inaugurated in 1956 by us became the first initiative for a blood bank in Sri Lanka.

Floods in 1957 proved to be a challenge for the society, however our volunteers came through excelling in delivering aid to the most vulnerable.

Collection Centers were opened at the headquarters in Colombo to receive relief supplies of food, clothing, drugs, and other relief material, which then were sent to help the victims of the flood. Not only did we manage to provide relief for people affected in Ceylon but also managed to deliver aid to victims of the flood in India.

In 1969 we raised fund nationally and donated relief items to flood and earthquake affected Burma, (now Myanmar) India, Pakistan, and Iran.

In 1972 a new constitution passed by the government of Ceylon to change the country’s name to Sri Lanka. As a result the Ceylon Red Cross Society re-named as the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society.

This is just a snapshot, so I recommend you view the You Tube clip above to see a more complete history.
It was also a privilige to read out a congratulatory message from Tadateru Konoe, President of IFRC, to the whole assembly. Photo: IFRC/SLRCS


Ruahines said...

Kia Ora Bob,
A big thank you and Kia kaha to you all.

Bob McKerrow - Wayfarer said...

Kia Ora Robb,

You inspired me with your Waitangi mission and our respective missions that we are so passionate about, are important. Together we can make changes. Kia Kaha ehore!


Donald said...

Dear Bob

Well done on your part re the positive history you've outlined - a testament that we can bring change!



Ruahines said...

Kia ora Bob,
You are kind. The truth is having connected with you via this medium, and following that into having met you in person, you and your exploits have taught and inspired me. Getting off my big ass and getting it up to Waitangi to find out the truth for myself is just one of the lessons. Kia ora.

Bob McKerrow - Wayfarer said...

Donald and Robb, We continue to inspire each other and because of our different interests and different paths, the unique things we do are collectively and individually inspiring.

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