The new American Red Cross program in Latin America and the Caribbean seeks to build “a culture of safety” in communities throughout the region.
Events in Trinidad, Nicaragua and Peru kicked off a series of community lead initiatives the brought together Red Cross staff and community leaders in shared learning and planning to help build stronger, safer neighborhoods. These programs are based on the success of previous disaster risk reduction and community health programs in the region.
Earlier this year, the American Red Cross worked with local Red Cross partners in the region to carry out assessments to determine needs in some of the regions most vulnerable and disaster prone areas. The activities and assessments, led by Red Cross trained community members, included mapping projects where people would walk through their town mapping important information like areas prone to flooding, safe areas, key landmarks and evacuations routes.
People also sat down together to develop a seasonal and historical calendar. Community members discussed disaster trends based on their personal life experiences– areas that used to be prone to draught now flood annually. Focus group discussion gathered additional information which was overlaid with pre-existing disaster knowledge to create individualized Community Action Plan that identify community threats and outline ways to address them.
Several priorities were consistent from country to country, such as hurricane and flood preparedness, but other priorities were unique to each area. For example, water and sanitation was a priority in one area, where health concerns or need for jobs was a concern in another. As plans are further developed the American Red cross will continue to work side by side with the communities and local Red Cross partners to ensure learning and sharing directly affect all aspects of programs to help make families safer.
“We are moving towards a long-term vision of success, one that utilizes integrated problem solving and is respectful of local needs and culture, “ said Alicia Fairfield, Central America Program Officer for the American Red Cross. “We want to help these communities continue to build a culture of safety.”
Fairfield who participated in some of the assessment spoke about the engagement and enthusiasm of community members as they took ownership of projects and prioritized their top needs.
Initial programs resulting from the assessments include increased disaster preparedness and first aid training. A young participant, 9-year-old David, said of his first aid training, “It inspires you toward humanity and gives you the power to help yourself and your community.”
Longer term strategies include improving environmental and physical infrastructure to protect homes and community services, as well as helping establish partnerships between neighborhoods, local organizations and public and private groups to facilitate more efficient coordination during disasters. The work will occur in over 100 communities in 11 countries helping them become safer, healthier and better equipped to respond to disasters.