“Hello and good morning. We are requesting 15 Volunteers at the branch urgently. If you are within town, confirm with me and let’s meet at the branch in the next 15. Thanks”
The message alert came through the Nairobi Red Cross Youth Information Group on WhatsApp at 0940hrs. Members who were free started confirming their availability minutes after the message. Within 5 minutes, the Youth Chairman Mike already had a list of volunteers who had accepted the call. Within the fifteen minutes, enthusiastic volunteers were at the branch waiting for a briefing. At my time of responding to the call, I did not know what the issue was. However, this never mattered, when the call comes through as a volunteer, all you need is to pack up and move. Assembly of the volunteers happened concurrently as three of our members went to assess the situation. Feedback was relayed immediately, and the briefing was transferred to Parliament road. Because the situation needed to be taken care of ASAP.
On the 15th day of February 2017, a group of internally displaced persons had gathered outside parliament seeking an audience with the President of The Republic of Kenya. It was the second attempt. On further investigation, it turned out they had spent the night on the cold hard streets of Nairobi after being beaten and chased by police officers from State House Road, after an attempt to give their petition and demands to the president. Reports indicated that they were beaten and tear-gassed. By morning, they had injuries, and some had developed breathing problems. Ambulances had already arrived at the location, and other teams were coming in. Within a few hours, the IDPs had occupied most of Parliament Road and Harambee Avenue.
The first batch of volunteers led by the chairman arrived at the scene, and the sight of the Red Cross Emblems gave a new lease of life to the IDPs who earlier appeared disoriented and lacking in morale.
The situation outside Parliament.
The first aiders got to their tools and helped the EMS teams to treat the wounds and pacify the eyes of those who had been severely affected by the tear gas. An information desk was set up, and roles distributed among the volunteers. In the 3rd – 4th hour after the teams arrived, there was calm, and order had been restored. There was a limited chance that there would be a riot occurring. Donors started visiting and giving their pledges. Among the first was a woman who donated about fifty cups of tea and bread. Then other donors started coming in, cash, bread, milk, water, and juice.
Moving to Uhuru Park.
At some point, the operation needed to move to facilitate proper accountability, security of the victims, and facilitate distribution of donations (foodstuff). This move came with a few logistical challenges, which were solved by the volunteers. One was the movement of the resources and the movement of the people. Working together with the traffic police along Harambee Avenue and Uhuru Highway, we guided them to Uhuru Park’s section, just opposite the Parliament building. At some point, we had to close traffic temporarily to allow the movement of the different groups, which included elderly and injured people from one side of the busy highway to the other. After everyone had moved to the park, the last of the cruisers, ambulances, and volunteers transferred to the park as well, where a new operations and distribution center was established.
Lining Up for assistance
At Uhuru Park, the operations were not hindered by anything, besides the usual pestering by Nairobi street families, a few random drunks, and idlers. The IDPs were grouped into their respective counties addressing them with a P.A system, and their leaders mobilized a few of the members to pick their donations in line with the numbers derived from the registration desk info, and by their respective counties. By this time, several trucks had offloaded foodstuff from the resource center as well as other individual donors.
The volunteers were energetic throughout the exercise, which majorly dealt with the control of order and the distribution of food to the people. They each received a loaf of bread, a packet of milk, a bottle of juice and a bottle of water. This required a synchronized operation that involved a lot of counting, lifting and carrying. This exercise had to be done fast enough considering they had slept out in the cold and had not had any meal for many hours. By 1700hrs, they had all been fed, and the activity had to end. We collected the trash that had been littered in the compound and ensured that the place was as clean as we had found it.
After everyone had been fed, and everything had been packed up, the volunteers met at the initial meeting point at Parliament road for a debrief and packing up of a tent earlier pitched for use as a medical center. We discussed the day’s challenges and the lessons that we had learned. Among the significant challenges, we faced on that day was the rebellious nature of some of the IDPs with a potential of violence who thought that the Kenya Red Cross had an affiliation with the government. Besides the reassurance that we had nothing to do with the government, this issue is addressed by regular dissemination exercises as well as orientations. Fitness for a volunteer is also paramount as was evident in the day’s activity. The day involved a lot of lifting and carrying, and this is not an easy fete for someone who does not take care of himself or herself well. As volunteers we also learned among other things, how to manage resources, crowd control, working with other agencies, personnel management, and leadership skills. Another interesting and insightful day in the life of a Kenya Red Cross Society Volunteer.
Photo Credits: Kenya Red Cross Society Twitter Handle: @KenyaRedCross & Michael Bosire.