Australia: Unity in action

Australian Red Cross delegate Dr Debra Blackmore recently returned home to Australia after 14 months working as deputy health coordinator with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Afghanistan. Here, the Melbourne-based general practitioner shares her perspectives on how the principle of Unity is core to the Red Cross Red Crescent's work in a country that has suffered decades of violent conflict.

"One of my last activities as deputy health coordinator for the ICRC in Afghanistan involved organising a five-day first aid course for Afghan Red Crescent Society trainers. This unique course taught male participants from across the country how to utilise local materials available in any Afghan village as substitutes for conventional first aid supplies, which are not always accessible. It was over the course of this training that I saw the true meaning of unity.

During the week I observed this assortment of men, representing a variety of regions, ethnic backgrounds and political alliances, work cohesively as a team. I saw the deep respect the younger men held for the bearded older men. The way the elders of the group negotiated misunderstanding or dissent was quite amazing. These men play the same mediation roles in their own communities, where they must navigate the views and demands of so many, including the various armed groups involved in the country's decades-long conflict. 

In a world with so much upheaval, there is something profoundly comforting about the surviving cultural traditions that have been here for so long. These deeply held cultural norms, while certainly contributing to Afghanistan's ongoing problems, also offer strength to local communities. Seeing this group of men pray together, share a heritage in the beards, clothes and hats they wear that identify where they are from or the journeys they have had in life, highlighted to me how important these different customs are to our sense of identity and belonging. It is this very cultural diversity that is crucial to the acceptance the Afghan Red Crescent Society finds across the country. In that moment, it was obvious to me how the involvement of diverse groups in the International Red Cross Red Crescent Movement offers unique opportunities to reach out.

On the last day of training, this group of men surrounded me as we watched the final overs of the World Cup cricket match between Scotland and Afghanistan. When the batsman hit a boundary from the third last ball to win the game, these deeply conservative men danced around cheering and chanting. Smiling at me, clapping and relishing that one small instant in time. On the news that night, from all around the country, there was the same unrestrained celebration and joy. All united in the first ever World Cup game win for the Afghan Blue Tigers. I have no idea what it is about sport that joins people together but I so hope there is more of that unity in the coming years for Afghanistan. And in this moment, I caught a glimpse of what the worldwide Red Cross Red Crescent Movement aspires to be and was thankful."