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The stories behind the Voices of Asia Pacific

Every disaster or crisis involves lives changing forever. Despite all the hardships and challenges a person, community, or an entire nation face, Red Cross and Red Crescent is always there to support people as they improve their lives during these hard times. The year 2020 -- with COVID-19 and record-breaking temperatures, typhoons and storms – brought on unimaginable changes to the world we live in.

Across the Asia Pacific, we have covered these changes across eleven different time zones. Here, we bring you stories spanning from Malaysia, Fiji, Indonesia to Sri Lanka, Australia, Mongolia, Vietnam and more.

 

“This one will give me babies in three months, and I will buy a few hens and a rooster when I get the next portion," she tells Sri Lankan Red Cross.

Neera Lebber Kolisanvibi had come to the land where her children were born, the land where she had lived in semi-permanent shelters in 1968 following her marriage. Neera was only ten years old when she married her 23-year-old husband.

The chance to simply be a girl was lost, much less have a childhood, and had four children of her own over four years. She endured the hardships of not only a child-marriage, but also of being a minority Muslim woman. Neera raised her children, took care of the livestock and ensured that food was on the table when her husband returned from work. He had worked as a labourer for more than 50 years and was later confined to bed with partial paralysis.


Every year, the northeastern monsoon hit their land and village hard, often resulting in the complete loss of  property and livestock. Even though they were evacuated to relief-centers by the government Disaster Management Centre, Neera still felt isolated and helpless; she wanted to talk to someone, to be listened to. She wanted to share her sadness about her goats and chickens, and the losses of her shelter and household things. Neera was feeding her husband when a girl in a Red Cross jacket approached her.

“She was kind and did not hesitate to sit next to me and ask me how I was”, Neera said, melting into tears.“The volunteer talked to me for some time, she listened to all my worries, and I felt so relieved. Red Cross provided me with a kaftan, a sleeping mat and gave my husband a sarong, because we had been dressed in wet clothes since morning”. Neera humbly thanked the team.

She returned home and found her home washed away by the floods and the livestock no longer there, so she sought shelter in her elder daughter’s house. One morning after the flood, Neera was unexpectedly approached by volunteers in Red Cross jackets. They gave her kitchen utensils and also took her information and family details before heading on. The next day morning they came back and told her something that brought her to tears.  “You will be getting a cash grant of 30,000 rupees”. She fell on her knees and thanked Almighty Allah - ‘Allah is good!’. “Thank you, now I know my husband will not starve, and I will not trouble my daughters by living under their roof,” Neera said, wiping tears of joy away. 

When the Red Cross team visited her after the grants were issued, she had already bought a goat. “This one will give me babies in three months, and I will buy a few hens and a rooster when I get the next portion. I also have a plan to put up a new hut for me, another for the livestock, in that higher land over there, so we can evacuate the animals on time”, Neera said.

Three months later, Red Cross teams visited Neera as she was preparing a meal for her husband; the mud-walls of her new hut had been raised up to roof-level, and the sound of a rooster filled the air. “As-salamu Alaykum!”, she welcomed with a wide smile and invited them inside the house. She turned and came back with two goat kids in her hands. “She gave me two babies”, Neera showed proudly, “Thanks to the support given by the Red Cross I could rebuild my life."

There are hundreds and thousands of ‘Neeras’ in Sri Lanka, in South Asia, and around the world, who are affected to various extents by disasters. These differing levels are results of them firstly being women, then being elderly women, thirdly being women belonging to minority groups, and fourthly but not finally, being a victim of child-marriage. Today Neera, in the absence of her husband’s active role in the village, leads her community, setting an example of “fostered resilience” in the face of recurrent disasters.

"Giving us money instead of tents allowed me to decide and prioritize my needs,” she said, as she gathered all the wrinkles on her face and wore a smile of power and strength.

Written by Pramudith D Rupasinghe
Proto credits: Pramudith D Rupasinghe, Radhika Fernando

Indonesian Red Cross engaged a group of performing clowns
to help distribute masks and hygiene kits.

Indonesian Red Cross trucks carrying a dozen volunteers rattle into small towns in Bali and pull up in the busy central areas. Volunteers climb down and hand out soap and hand sanitizer, explaining to people about the importance of hygiene in the fight against COVID-19. Others strategically place posters promoting the use of masks, good hygiene and personal distancing around these areas.

One particular day in a local market, there is a striking difference. While most of the volunteers wear the protective mask, one of them stands out. Dressed in a Madya traditional costume, Ajik Bergedes instead wears a smiling mimicry mask.


The bondres artist is part of the Balinese storytelling culture that discusses particularly difficult issues accompanied by a comedy so that people are not left despondent or get offended. Generations of cultural experience has shown that the method makes it easier to receive messages and information because they are conveyed in a humorous and pleasant way. The performance is traditionally carried out in Balinese by either a single Bondres artist or a troupe. Ajik’s presence immediately draws attention and he starts his comic performance highlighting COVID-19 prevention. With the huge smile of the Bondres mask, he talks to groups about the importance of regulations on physical distancing and encourages people to follow signs put-up by the government and community groups promoting the use of masks, handwashing, physical distancing, and other preventive measures.

The traditional mask and the use of humor help ensure no offence is taken. Countless people not wearing protective masks all say they will definitely wear one in the future.

Komang Ngurah Arya Kusuma, the head of the Red Cross unit at Melaya village, said it was important for communities not to let their guard down and become complacent. “To encourage this we continue to undertake preventative measures such as teaching people about the importance of good hygiene practices and wearing masks, including through Bebondresan.”

“These educational and entertaining activities have brought people not only essential information, but also a little comfort during this pandemic.”

Bebondresan is not the only creative way Indonesian Red Cross is sharing important messages about COVID-19 and how people can keep safe and protect their loved ones. For example, the Red Cross branch in Tangerang City, Banten province, has engaged a group of local performing clowns to help distribute masks and hygiene kits.



Ade Kurniawan from the Tangerang branch said the clowns helped to share important information while also providing entertainment during the pandemic when people were often worried and stressed.

“Much like engaging clowns at a children’s hospital, this too was done to uplift spirits in the community,” he said. “We hope people are not too stressed and they can still be happy, especially while coping with the current community conditions.” 

Story by Musfarayani, Ade Kurniawan and Taufan Kristant

"I am thankful that my grandchildren were not around as it was during their school holidays at the time of the flood. They would have been heartbroken."

Loh Chin Sin, 74 stands tall in front of his house which he has called home for the past 40 years. Continuous heavy rain in Eastern Peninsula Malaysia in early January 2021 battered hundreds of communities including Loh’s. Severe flash floods devastated thousands of houses, schools and other infrastructure.

“Back in 2014 and in 2017 when there were floods, the water level only ever rose up to 3ft.” This time however, Chin Sin says it rose up to three metres, almost reaching the second storey of his house.


This was the worst flood ever endured in living memory for communities across the state of Pahang, which was one of the three states badly hit. Electricity poles and wires were also badly damaged, completely cutting off power to these communities. To make matters worse, many areas were unreachable due to roads being flooded. Even days after the rain stopped, many areas still remained submerged under stagnant waters. Communities and authorities were left waiting, at times at the side of roads, for the water to recede. Loh said he was thankful that his grandchildren were not around as it was their school holidays at the time of the flood. "They would have been heartbroken."

The Malaysian Red Crescent worked alongside authorities to help evacuate more than 52,000 people and then later to send relief aid, such as food and essential items.

Loh Chin Sin and his neighbours were relocated to a nearby shelter. In anticipation of his children’s and grandchildren's arrival, he has cleaned and is restoring his house, salvaging whatever he can with the help of a friend. 

Written by Rachel Punitha and Aurora Sami

Proto credits: Fadza Ishak / IFRC

Nepal Red Cross volunteers constructed separate toilets for girls and boys as part of their Community-Based Disaster Risk Management programme. 
 
My name is Laxmi Prasad Dahal, a resident of Halesi Tuwachung Municipality ward No. 4, Badahare. I am 48 years old and have worked as a teacher for 33 years at the Shree Shanti Lower Secondary School in the same ward. Despite being established more than three decades ago, back in 1988, the school did not have a toilet--until Nepal Red Cross Society came to our village.

Because of a lack of toilets, students and teachers had no other alternative than to relieve themselves out in the open. Girls would miss at least four days of school every month during their menstrual cycles because the school did not have toilets for them to use.

 

Needless to say, the school’s health and sanitation was in a dire state. But in 2017, Nepal Red Cross Society started its water, health and sanitation programme linked with critical work to increase reilience and reduce risks from disasters in our village, which constructed separate toilets for girls and boys.
 
Besides that, the programme has also educated students and teachers on the importance of maintaining proper sanitation. Through the programme, the Junior/Youth Red Cross programme has been pledged NPR 10,000 (approximately CHF 100) as fund money to organise public awareness campaigns about basic first aid treatment, the significance of handwashing and rainwater harvesting. The programme also installed a rainwater harvesting system, with a 5,000 litre tank.
 
The water is used to keep the toilets clean. In the past three years that the programme has been implemented, the environment in the school has changed dramatically. Many students, even teachers, including me and my friends, have taught our family members the importance of sanitation. The programme has not only given our school something that we desperately needed but has also introduced to us the concept and importance of taking better care of our health, hygiene and sanitation—and for that, we will always be thankful to Nepal Red Cross Society.

 
Written by Laxmi Prasad Dahal,
Halesi Tuwachung Municipality, Badahare, ward No. 4

Australian Red Cross volunteers received about 20 thousand calls since July 2020 from people who want to talk about their difficulties. 

The Community Activation and Social Isolation (CASI) Initiative was organised by the Victorian State Government (southern part of Australia) for those in the pandemic that were feeling lonely, down and had lost communications with their regular networks. The aim of the initiative was to allow people to talk to people who could help them cope with their difficulties during lockdown by building networks of communications and supports with the local communities.

This also acted as a referral system for others, who had psychological, emotional trouble or simply wished to have access to basic food items during trying times. They were helped and directed to relevant organisations that could assist with either a referral to a different service or help from the volunteers themselves. 

Volunteering Action(s)

Through the CASI initiative, Red Cross and other volunteers were able to provide the following services.
- Food: Through the partnerships with the Food Bank in Victoria to deliver three boxes of food right to the doorstep of the people who had called and needed such help.
- Support Systems for People: Volunteers were able to make callers feel at ease (anxiety due to lockdown) and good during lockdown and even could refer certain people who needed help and assistance from other organisations such as the food bank should the callers make such a request.
These are some of the noted experiences that were provided during interviews to highlight the importance of CASI initiative in Victoria, Australia.

  • “V” has just relocated to a new accommodation after leaving a domestic violence situation. Fearful of someone seeing her and letting her abuser know her location, “V” was unable to leave her home to buy groceries, as well as the strain the move with her children and dogs put on her finances. She was calm but exhausted when we spoke, and I was able to connect her with the local council for food support and connection with services from domestic violence survivors, as well as a community pet food pantry to provide her with some dog food for her beautiful staffies.
  • “K”, 17, rang in on her family’s behalf, as her mum was too sick to speak with us on the phone. “K” and her three younger siblings were all quarantined with their mum; at least two of them had tested positive for COVID-19. “K” was very calm while explaining the family’s situation and struggle, and said that he grandmother also lived with them, but did not feel comfortable on the phone due to her limited English. Listening to “K” translate information to her grand mum while answering my questions was amazing – a lot of responsibility on that teenager’s shoulders, it seemed. We were able to provide the family food relief and other online resources to access in their language.
  • Having worked in the aged care sector, this was the second time this 22-year-old woman had entered mandatory isolation due to being in close contact with a confirmed positive corona case. She called up the CASI phone line for support in accessing food relief and financial assistance as, being an international student, she has little government support available to her during this time. As a result, our CASI operator was able to organise a Red Cross food and care package to be delivered to her the next day, as well as refer her to the Study Melbourne International student emergency relief fund for financial support. Additionally, in response to the young woman’s request for fresh produce, our CASI operator was able to make out a request to her local council for fresh meats and vegetables to be delivered in the following days, leaving the caller feeling grateful to have talked to a friendly voice.
  • After getting tested for coronavirus, this 62-year-old woman called up the CASI phone line looking for food assistance for herself and her family during their mandatory isolation period. As a full time, carer to her ill husband and her two acoustic grandsons, being in mandatory isolation was an additional weight for this woman to bear. After a good mental health check in, our CASI operator was able to organise a Red Cross food and care package to be delivered to her and her family the next day, aiding in relieving the caller from the stress of the isolation shopping duties.
Written by Amelia Towle
Every December, we celebrate our volunteers that selflessly give their time, efforts, passion and focus towards others in need. December 2020 was no different. From over 30 countries in the Asia Pacific, volunteers took part in a 24-hour live event that aired live on TikTok, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Together, they laughed, teared, danced, sang and shared personal stories from their myriad of experiences for the year 2020. Here for the many exciting highlights from that special 24 hours. 

The session collectively saw the participation from volunteers and hosts from more than 150 countries from around the world.

More than 100 calls were received by the Fiji Red Cross
on separated family members. 95 of them were resolved.

Volunteers are delivering relief by foot, on boats,
alongside makeshift bridges and destroyed roads.

Trained community volunteers play a crucial role in preventing
increased risk and identifying potential incidents.

Trained community volunteers play a crucial role in preventing
increased risk and identifying potential incidents.

There needs to be a a public accounting of how well resource allocation aligns with scientific prediction and the lessons we have learned.

END
 
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