WEDNESDAY 8 May is World Red Cross Day, an apt day to consider what this (all too often unsung) group of international volunteers is contributing to the development and growth of support services in South Africa. Emma Durden from the HIV/AIDS Unit compiled this report.
"The South African chapter of the Red Cross was written in 1896, when a group of volunteers approached President Paul Kruger for permission to establish an ambulance corps. This small group, with a grant of 500 Pounds, grew into the South African Red Cross Society (SARCS) that is today represented in every province.
"The principle concerns of the Red Cross are: to encourage and promote the improvement of health, the prevention of disease and the mitigation of suffering. With the increasing prevalence of AIDS in our society, and the huge pressure that this places on our health and welfare services, the SARCS plays a vital role in the provision of care for those who are infected and affected by AIDS.
"Through financial aid from the Norwegian and British Red Cross Societies, the SARCS has been able to establish an AIDS programme with the main objective of sensitising vulnerable communities to the epidemic and creating an environment within them whereby these communities themselves are empowered to: take positive action to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS and STD's; learn how to care for people with AIDS and other debilitating diseases/ conditions; and cope with other psychosocial effects caused by the epidemic
"The Western Cape branch of the SARCS co-ordinates a number of home-based care programmes, where community workers are trained to care for those affected, and to teach others how to look after their own friends and family members. Terry Galeni, a volunteer with the Khayelitsha programme, has been a volunteer at the SARCS since 1999, where she was trained in First Aid, and then in the three levels of home-based care before doing a practical stint with children at Nazareth House, and then adults at St Luke's Hospice.
"Her days are now filled with activities for the SARCS. On Mondays and Thursdays she conducts support groups in Khayelitsha, attended by groups of about 45 people who are infected with HIV. The other three days of the working week are spent in the homes of those who are too ill to get out to attend a support group.
"These are people who could be clinically defined as having AIDS. Terry will bath them, cook for them and feed them, clean their houses, and run any errands that are needed. These are invaluable services for those who do not have families with the time, resources or will to help them, and do not have the strength to help themselves.
"The aims of the 2002 SARCS programme are to educate at least 4 700 people per week around HIV/AIDS, to train 20 000 families and volunteers to take care of people with AIDS, and to pass on Basic First Aid skills to 40 000 people.
"If anybody is interested in offering their support (both time and money are always appreciated), the Wynberg Branch of the SARCS is at 797-4711, or email firstname.lastname@example.org