Archive for May, 2012


Happy Birthday to Henri Dunant! Today marks what would have been the 184th birthday of the founder of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, the man who conceived of what would become the Geneva Conventions, and the recipient of the first Nobel Peace Prize. The American Red Cross, along with other national societies, continues to spread the same humanitarian ideals touted by Dunant over 150 years ago, in part through dissemination of international humanitarian law (IHL). I have been proud to be an IHL instructor for the American Red Cross for more than 4 years now, and now Chair the International Services Committee at my local Southeast Louisiana Chapter in New Orleans.

Today, the Presidents of ICRC and IFRC issued a joint statement reminding us how vital young people are to the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, saying “we must work to better recognize, invest in and empower the next generation of young leaders who will surely carry our Movement and our lifesaving mandate forward. Today, we recognize “Youth on the move,” and the profound impact that young people, who represent nearly half of our volunteers world-wide, are having in their communities and on the global stage through the Red Cross and Red Crescent.”

In addition, the ICRC Regional Delegation for the US and Canada reminds us that this month’s operational focus is on violence and displacement of civilians in Colombia, which not only continues but grew in volume in 2011. I have studied the problem of IDPs in Colombia as a result of the continuing violence, which has lasted 50+ years – the “desterrados” are the forgotten displaced, an IDP crisis happening in the Americas. When people think of displacement, they think of IDPs and refugees fleeing from conflict across Africa, but Colombia is often forgotten. Take a look at the ongoing efforts of ICRC and this violence than has been raging for more than half a century, right here in our own hemisphere.

The Red Cross is an organization that has always been close to my heart – I’ve been a Red Crosser for 11+ years, and continue to work hard to support the organization and live up to it’s reputation. My involvement with the American Red Cross has spanned 3 chapters and include a laundry list of functions, including: youth manager, disaster instructor trainer, shelter manager, CPR/First Aid instructor, IHL instructor, DAT member, logistics officer, babysitting instructor, grant writer, fundraiser, event planner, leadership development center director, IS committee chair, caseworker, and many more! I’m proud to share my birthday with World Red Cross Red Crescent Day and with Henri Dunant – I take it as evidence that I belong with the organization and will continue to call it my home.

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We distributed eyeglasses to nearly 1,100 people and completed 40-something surgeries in Chinandega, last week, as part of this year’s New Orleans Medical Mission Services trip to Nicaragua. The week before, another NOMMS team in Matagalpa saw over 1,450 patients in the eye clinic and 43 surgeries. Overall, a successul time in Nicaragua this year.

For me, the trip was particularly fulfilling, as I had the opportunity to serve as director of the eye clinic in Chinandega. This being only my 2nd mission with NOMMS, I was a bit nervous, especially since my Spanish is pretty rusty – I can’t conjugate worth a damn, so everything is happening right now, nothing has ever happened or will ever happen when I’m speaking Spanish! But my team in the eye clinic was great, including the fabulous Dr. Frank Romano, who really brought an extra dimension to the clinic with his insights into reading the prescription slips (papelitas) and identifying solutions to help people see better that weren’t easy to discern from the auto-refractor readings alone. Our operation was one of quality over quantity, seeing fewer patients than other trips, but I feel really confident and pleased with the work we did in spending more time with each patient to make sure we were getting the right fit for each of them. That’s what’s important, and combined with the fact that we didn’t turn anyone away – all the demand was met, everyone who came to the clinic got in and was seen – leaves me more than satisfied with the week’s efforts.

Of course, as a student of development, I continue to think about the sustainability factor – NOMMS is really doing good work and I believe in the organization, but I will be promoting activities with them more focused on capacity-building in the countries we’re visiting and based more in education for the local doctors and nurses we’re working with. As with any humanitarian effort, we should be trying to work ourselves out of a job. Modifying the focus of the missions to include a larger component of training and capacity building, in my opinion, should be the future focus of the organization so I will bring these ideas to the board and see what we can do to make that a priority.

In the meantime, our partners in Nicaragua are fantastic. Hospital España and Hospital Mauricio Abdala were gracious and helpful hosts, and the Coen Foundation took great care of us, helping to get all of the arrangements settled in advance and providing us with a lovely reception the final day of the trip. Our volunteers were fantastic, the folks in the eye clinic (Eric, Maureen, Suzanne, Lois, & Mary) were troopers, working 11-hour days and with endless patience. I am looking forward to my next experience on a NOMMS mission, hoping to get further into the logistics side of the operation.

For more info on NOMMS: