Each year, millions of Red Crossers around the world reach more than 170 million vulnerable people, through a diverse and innovative range of services.
Every 8th of May, on World Red Cross Day, we celebrate these incredible contribution and achievements, as we fulfill our commitment to humanity every day.
To highlight the diversity of our work and the universality of our approach, we’ll be using a simple call to action to share one of the most universal symbols – a smile.
For a volunteer, it means a job well done. For someone affected by crisis, it can mean someone is ready and willing to help. We want to harness the power of this symbol to celebrate the dedication and impact of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, and their volunteers and staff.
Celebrate the lifesaving work of millions of volunteers around the world. Show your support by
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Happy World Red Cross!
By Sondra Foo, Corporate Communications and Marketing
For five years, the image of a dead baby haunted volunteer Chew Lip Heng everytime he showered.
Right after the Great Indian Ocean Tsunami struck on 26 December 2004, Chew (as he is known), was notified to prepare for deployment. He was mobilised by Singapore Red Cross (SRC) to ground zero - the epicentre of the tsunami in Meulaboh, Indonesia, as part of the advance medical team in January 2005. Getting there was not easy - the journey involved taking an RSAF C130 (military transport aircraft) from Paya Lebar Air Base to Medan, then an RSAF Chinook (helicopter) to Meulaboh. The return journey was by sea onboard RSN Endeavour (a Landing Ships Tank).
On location, the four-person Red Cross advance team surveyed the needs of the local healthcare facilities and stakeholders. Chew’s teammates were a doctor and two nurses. His role was to ensure safety and organise the logistics for the team.
While at Meulaboh Hospital, a mother brought her baby boy who had breathing difficulties. The baby was quickly put on IV drip but prognosis was poor. Chew was asked if he could organise a helicopter transfer to Medan. Attempts to organise a transfer failed.
“The baby died two to three hours later. His eyes were open and he was staring back at me. The baby’s mother was kneeling in front of me crying. And I failed to comfort her,” recalled Chew.
Six months after returning to Singapore, the image of the dead baby haunted him everytime he turned on the tap to shower - that that vision repeated itself over five years. The episodes stopped after he made peace with himself, concluding that he had done everything he could to help. This underscored a salient point, that while volunteers go on missions to help, they also have to take care of themselves and seek help if needed, particularly if they undergo post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
As Head of Operations Control and SRC’s first auxiliary staff, Chew recounted his volunteering experiences as part of Singapore Red Cross Academy’s “brown bag talk” at Red Cross House on 18 April, entitled “Volunteer for Life - Life-changing & Life-saving.”
Chew, who had also been part of the advance teams despatched in the aftermath of the Bohol Earthquake (October 2013) and Typhoon Haiyan (November 2013), accentuated the importance of reassuring casualties. He suggested that as non-healthcare professionals, an offer of a pair of hands can help calm those in need. He had held the hands of a lady who was in fear when a doctor needed to make an incision on her thigh. And he had held the hands of a distressed boy who needed an IV drip to be established.
Chew also advised volunteers to carry the flashlight not only as a safety measure (a post-9/11 commission recommendation) but also as a Everyday Carry (EDC). He recounted once, a lady presented at a field hospital with breathing difficulties. To save her, the doctor had to intubate her. Chew put his flashlight to good use when the doctor’s laryngoscope-light malfunctioned.
He shared it was important to be prepared for the unexpected, and to think out of the box, especially at overseas missions. He shared an incident of a night ambulance transfer, where oxygen was running out for a patient. Fortunately, a quick-thinking doctor saved the day by suggesting that the destination hospital send oxygen towards the ambulance enroute. Plan B was for the team to target a medical centre for oxygen. In that instance, oxygen from the destination hospital arrived the same time the team arrived at the medical centre. The patient survived the transfer.
Every mission carries risks. Chew shared how the OpsWatch team was activated when an ex-colleague was overdue while enroute from a remote location to Kathmandu. Enquiries were initiated on ground and timelines were drawn up with plans to seek assistance from other stakeholders. Fortunately, the ex-colleague arrived safely in Kathmandu.
Besides overseas missions, Chew also volunteers locally as a First Aider on Wheels (FAOW). He gives first aid to park-goers in need, at East Coast Park and Pulau Ubin during weekends and public holidays.
He shared in jest some taboo words and phrases that volunteers believe may attract casualties, especially those that require ambulance transfer. The “jinxed” words include “nobody today”, “ambulance” or “police”.
“On a recent Ubin duty, a volunteer said something about the “police launch”. It was not long before a visitor presented at the first aid post with all the warning signs of a heart attack,” he said. A “police launch” was organised for the visitor, and Chew escorted him from Ubin jetty to Loyang. The volunteer responsible for the “police launch” was not as chatty for the rest of the shift.
Fortunately, the need for CPR+AED is not often. More common are arm fractures. He cited an awkward yet comical encounter where he and a volunteer had to apply an arm sling for a casualty. Both were somewhat less proficient than they were at the time of first aid certification. This has since motivated him to conduct more drills for volunteers at FAOW.
What keeps a volunteer going
Jokes aside, Chew shared what keeps him going are “identity, belonging, purpose, and transcendance.”
By transcendence, it means to be so focused on a particular task that everything else surrounding him becomes a blur. To illustrate his transcendent experience, he shared his experience providing first aid to an injured motorcyclist who had met with an accident in the wee hours of a morning.
“The motorcyclist was all rolled up and he was gasping for breath as a result of a serious accident. When I attended to him, my transcendent state set in. Everything was a halo, I was focusing on him and everything else was a blur. Paramedics took over shortly after. Unfortunately, he died a few days later. First aid did not save him eventually but no one knows at the time of rendering aid. I met his wife at the hospital and I’d like to think the extra few days had made a difference for her,” Chew shared wistfully.
As always, he is thankful for the opportunity to help make a difference.
“I do not have a lot to offer but my pair of hands. I have this sense of belonging. To the staff and volunteers of Red Cross, you are precious to the Red Cross Movement and we should be proud to be part of the Movement,” he affirmed.
To conclude, Chew urged everyone to contribute within our means to make a difference in the community. There are many opportunities for development and advancement as volunteers. He encouraged the audience to get trained in first aid and be proficient at it. Every contribution counts, no matter how small.