Burden of Benevolence - Red Cross Society

by Aparna Tandon on  May 6, 2008 at 6:01 PM Medindia Exclusive - Interviews and In depth Reports
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It was a cross that everyone loved to bear. Its track record is good too. The dedicated souls, who render their service irrespective of the caste, creed or colour of the persons affected, have come in for a lot of praise. But now, after nearly 80 years of its entry into India, the Red Cross is beginning to show signs of weariness, with many administrative and operational hiccups coming in the way of its humanitarian intervention.

Salutations to The Red Cross

The Red Cross Society entered India in 1920 by a special act of the Parliament. By that time it had already made its mark on the international scene. It became known for its volunteers, who threw themselves with zest into relief work whenever some disaster or other overtook a community.

India was targeted because of its vast populace, its myriad diseases that were playing havoc in the form of epidemics and also because the country was vulnerable to all kinds of natural disasters.

There was indeed a general sense of jubilation that the Red Cross, which is a reputed international outfit, should have chosen to turn its sights to India. The Government, private organizations, as well as the educated class patronised it, and so its operations took off in right earnest.

It expanded its activities to cover 35 states and union territories, and it now boasts of more than 700 district and sub districts branches.

Core Chores

Health awareness promotion, blood banks, homes for the disabled, HIV-AIDS prevention programmes, hospital services and women and child care are among the areas the Indian Red Cross has excelled in.

Mrs. Saroji Varadappan, who has just stepped down as the president of the Tamil Nadu unit of the Red Cross in southern India, looks back with satisfaction on the work she and her colleagues have done.

"It has been a great time, challenging too. We always rose to the occasion whether it was a tsunami or an ordinary fire accident. We were able to raise funds in many innovative ways. I am particularly happy about the nurse aide programme we launched 20 years ago. It has been a great success."

She said actually it was the Kottayam unit in the adjoining state of Kerala that inspired her. Some improvements were effected too. "While they were conducting a three-month programme, we made it into one year, under advice from our doctors," she explained.

Girls who pass out of ten years of schooling, and generally from the poorer sections, are given some rudimentary training in such things as injections, sponge-bath, nasal feeding and so on.

Approximately, more than 2,000 persons have been trained till now and most of them have been able to obtain placements too.

The programme comes in handy these days when geriatric care is assuming ever greater importance, what with nuclear families and children settling abroad, notes Mrs.Varadappan.

No shoulder to bear the Cross

But some other Red Cross functionaries are not that enthusiastic. Like Blood Kumar, a governing body member of the Karnataka Red Cross Society. He is particularly concerned about the paucity of funds.

'What we get from the government is not enough to meet the growing health and relief demands.'

The Society does obtain funds from such sources as the Chief Minister's Relief Fund and the Governor's, apart from many philanthropists. But that is not sufficient for the Society if it has to meet its aims of spreading awareness and reaching out to the needy, especially in remote villages.

One of the major initiatives of the Red Cross used to be the provision of blood on time. But then, to get the life-saver, people in remote areas have to come to the district headquarters as blood banks are mostly located there.

'Why can't we have blood banks in every nook and corner? This would save lives. But then the Society doesn't have the funds. It takes around Rs.15 lakh to set up one blood bank,' says Kumar, who initiated a blood donation drive on the day of his marriage. The guests were asked to donate blood instead of giving gifts, and many obliged happily. But such token gestures wont do, he admits.

The fund crunch arises basically because the state Red Cross Societies do not get money from the global body, and each unit is asked to be self-sufficient. Tapping the corporate world is something that the Red Cross Societies haven't done much but might have to henceforth.

Also there is a dearth of volunteers. Volunteering is the backbone of the Society, and a major chunk used to come from among the youth and the educated masses who were looking for opportunities to serve.

'Now, although there are many members, there aren't many to come forward with their services,' regrets Madhura Ashok Kumar, a Red Cross official and social worker, also of Karnataka.

Many seem to eye positions in the Society, seeing in them social status, but when it comes to actual field work, most of them back out. Only the medical practitioners chip in at health camps regularly.

Ms.Varadappan asserts that in Tamil Nadu mobilizing students has been a great success.

But a volunteer countered, 'Though we have initiated awareness programmes in schools and colleges, there aren't many who come forward. Who has the time to spend in camps and relief operations, when they have to attend classes that will make their future?'

Still the Society could pride itself on the work it did during tsunami. College students mobilized by the Red Cross Society did a commendable job in the Cuddalore district of Tamil Nadu, many acknowledge.

Future Focus

As the Red Cross Day approaches, reaching out to those living in remote areas to create the much needed awareness about health and proper living and a sustained intervention on the AIDS front should be the focus of the Society.

But then such a mission requires broad shoulders to bear the Cross. Only then can it be carried to even greater heights.

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Source: Medindia

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