Timor-Leste

East Timor Red Cross grows from disaster experience

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by Charles Evans in East Timor
The challenging business of building a Red Cross national society from scratch in the world's newest nation was moved a step further in East Timor this week with the Red Cross continuing to provide assistance to hundreds of victims of flash floods.

More than 20 volunteers from the East Timor Red Cross - Cruz Vermelha Timor Leste (CVLT) have carried out a vital distribution of relief goods to some 40 families (250 people) in a district in the southeast of the country - Maliana - which was hard hit by floods at the end of last month.

This inspiring team of young people, well organised by East Timor Red Cross managers, first delivered 30 sacks of used clothes, donated by the Singapore Red Cross, to the Convent of Santa Cruz in the provincial capital, where nuns will sort and group before the volunteers distribute to the needy families.

Then it was onto the village of Cailaco, an hour's drive away, where families awaited receipt of relief kits, including kitchen, washing and hygiene items. The results of weeks of training were there for all to see, with the distribution carried out faultlessly, based on an assessment conducted in the area a few days earlier.

Seventy-year-old subsistence farmer, Seraphim Mario, living nearby with his wife and seven children, said: "It was terrible when the floods came, rushing through our house and completely destroying the kitchen." Even more disastrous for Seraphim was the loss of his crops on which he and his family depend for survival: "We are having to buy our food now, so this help from the Red Cross is crucial for us," he added.

The Red Cross assessment in Maliana, found that families had not only lost homes, belongings, livestock and crops, but were now so short of food that they were only eating one meal a day. And even then, what food there was had to be mixed with ground palm tree fibre to make rations stretch a bit further.

As a result, the East Timor Red Cross is also hoping to distribute food as well as vegetable and rice seeds to the affected families for three months, to tide them over to the next harvest. But the assistance is needed quickly as the planting season is just underway.

"The East Timor Red Cross is coming of age rapidly," says Federation Representative in Dili, Olav Ofstad. "Today's distribution has not only provided essential relief for people on the margin of day-to-day living, but has also underpinned the society's growing role at the community level, and thus generated some important visibility and profile across the country as a whole. I really hope sister Red Cross and Red Crescent societies will be generous in supporting this work and so enable us to really help the villagers who truly are among the poorest of the poor," he adds.

Ofstad has been working with the East Timor Red Cross since October 2003 and is primarily charged with supporting the society in its development towards recognition and formal admission to the International Federation at the 2005 general assembly in Seoul, South Korea.