Volunteers are the backbone of any Red Cross society. On a typical busy day at the Philippine Red Cross Leyte chapter office in Tacloban, the yard is humming with activity as relief goods are loaded onto waiting trucks destined for survivors of Typhoon Haiyan, which slammed into the Visayas region of the Philippines in November, leaving thousands dead and over 4 million displaced from their homes.
The supplies will be distributed by an army of cheerful volunteers, many of them college or school students who are helping out during the long summer break. Some have even taken unpaid leave or resigned from their jobs to volunteer full time with the Red Cross.
John ‘Jiboy’ Macato, 28, joined the Philippine Red Cross youth programme at high school. He is currently based out of the Tacloban office where a water mark running around the top of the wall serves as a stark reminder of the deadly tidal surge that accompanied Typhoon Haiyan. Jiboy explains how he is recruiting volunteers for the chapter’s extensive hygiene promotion activities in the local barangays, or villages.
“I make use of social media like Facebook, as well as text messages, to grab people’s attention and get them to invite their friends, so that way I always have a pool of volunteers available,” he says. *What you also have to remember is that here, many young people or their families have been victims of Yolanda (the local name for Haiyan), so they have a desire to give back and show that they care, that they are humanitarians as well as committed volunteers.”
Jiboy, a registered nurse who has previously worked at a health clinic in South Sudan, says he was attracted to the Red Cross as a 14-year-old after seeing an advertisement for a summer camp. He went along and enjoyed it so much he joined the youth volunteer programme and has been involved ever since.
As a result of Haiyan, Jiboy has interrupted plans to study for a Masters degree in international development at a London university, and is training one of the other volunteers to replace him when he eventually leaves later this year.
The day we met he was busy planning a series of health and hygiene promotion activities with a team of 13 nursing student volunteers as part of a plan to train community midwives and nurses to deal with possible outbreaks of cholera in the wake of the typhoon. There have already been a few reported cases in Leyte, and the authorities are taking no chances.
Jiboy and his colleagues on the newly convened Cholera Task Force are determined to make sure that community health professionals are well prepared to deal with the highly contagious disease, which strikes in unsanitary conditions.
“Without this hygiene promotion throughout Leyte (island) there is always the possibility of a mass outbreak of a communicable disease,” Jiboy says.
“The emphasis is on the importance of clean water and teaching people about the need to practice good hygiene habits, we also train our volunteers to talk to communities about violence prevention as well as giving them information about sexually transmitted diseases.”
Text by Kate Marshall, IFRC, Philippines.
Photo: Stephen Ryan, Irish Red Cross