It is humanity alone that can take a person this far to help his fellow human beings
My first international humanitarian mission took me to Mindanao in the southern part of the Philippines that had been wrecked by typhoon Pablo. The devastation left behind by it was unimaginable. People had lost everything. The first sight of the ICRC office in Baganga in Mindanao was in itself a scene that was beyond any imagination. Baganga was one of the worst hit areas and our office was on a hilltop named Baganga hills. A wooden plank path built over the marshy land was the only decent approach to the office.
As my month-long mission began and progressed, I realised that Pablo had affected everybody, including women. Besides increasing their vulnerability, it had burdened them with more responsibilities. However, despite being victims, women were determined to come out of this distress. On the one hand, they were fulfilling their duties as the primary care-takers of their children, the sick and the elderly at home. On the other hand, their participation in rebuilding lives was phenomenal. They were extending all possible help to their men folk in rebuilding their houses.
I saw women, of all ages, some of them pregnant, who had to walk long distances, waiting in long queues to receive relief goods. Despite their condition, they were grateful for the assistance they were receiving. “At least we do not have to worry about what food to prepare”, said an old woman.
The role of women in emergency response was equally impressive. It was inspiring to see a chapter administrator of Philippines Red Cross (PRC) leading relief operations in one of the hardest hit areas. Flooding associated with the typhoon had washed off two main bridges blocking her access to the field. However, it did not prevent her from crossing the swollen rivers in a boat, and boost the morale of her team by being present in the field.
There were many such stories of courage and resilience where these women were doing a great job despite all odds. One such experience was with a relief-providing PRC team that had more than 15 women members - nurses, technicians and students who helped the beneficiaries in getting access to their daily needs, evacuate people to safe places, disinfect water and set up community kitchens in the evacuation and resettlement centres. They were also involved in generating awareness among people in order to prevent the spread of deadly water-borne diseases.
I returned after completing my month-long mission. Now as I sit back and revisit my journey in my mind, I realise that it was a gateway to a completely new world where human efforts to make lives better for others knew no boundaries. And perhaps it is humanity alone that can take a person this far to help his fellow human beings.
By Arshid Amin Khan, Advisor to the Head of the ICRC sub-delegation in India, who recently returned from a month-long mission in Mindanao in the southern part of Philippines.