Dominica Red Cross Society: Transforming Volunteerism Over the Years
You may recall seeing these individuals during the 03rd November parade and other national events handing out water to various troops and dignitaries. But these bold, brave men and women are much more than your typical 'water carrier'.
"Volunteers are the backbone of the national society," Director General of the Dominica Red Cross Society (DRCS) Sandra Charter-Rolle told The Sun.
Her remarks came on the heels of World Volunteer Day which she says is an opportune time to recognize the contribution of Red Cross volunteers as "our volunteers are the ones who help us in implementing our projects on the ground."
The role of the volunteers has evolved significantly over the years as Charter-Rolle explains that the Society is now involved in a plethora of activities due to its first responder status.
"We are the main trainer for disaster management in our communities. Also, we do a lot of first aid training and we offer that training to the public," Charter-Rolle said.
She added: "We are involved in health, we have been doing a lot of promotion for dengue and Zika. We have a welfare programme where we have wheelchairs and the medical aids we distribute," she said.
The list of activities doesn't stop there. The DRCS is currently engaged in a tree-planting project in Tarreau to protect its watershed. Additionally, the society is responsible for storing supplies in villages around the country should an area be cut off from Roseau in the event of a natural disaster.
The DCRS relies heavily on the public for donations as financial self-sufficiency remains one of its main hurdles.
"Because we depend very heavily on donors. Most of the work that we do is projects, so in order to be able to sustain our staff - because we have to be able to pay the staff and maintain the national society - this is our biggest challenge," she said.
Charter-Rolle admits that several projects have had to be modified due to the COVID-19 pandemic and presently the main focus of the society is helping to combat the COVID crisis.
"Due to COVID, our volunteers are out there assisting the Ministry of Health and the Health Centres particularly Roseau Health Centre and the Stadium," Charter-Rolle said. "They are assisting with people coming in for vaccination, doing the registration, monitoring them after they've gotten the vaccines, etc."
To date, the Dominica Red Cross Society has over 300 volunteers in ten branches across the country. The Director-General, while grateful to the number of volunteers, says the recruitment of school-aged children has been dampened due to the pandemic and further compounded by the competition of social media.
"To get people to volunteer their time and interest is a challenge for us to retain our volunteers, so we have to constantly be doing programmes and organizing training for volunteers to keep their interest and keep that spirit of volunteerism in our communities. We are always looking to recruit new members, particularly the young members in schools. We take in young members because it helps with continuity for the national society," Charter-Rolle said.
Ideally, the society would like to increase the number of volunteers and branches so that work can be carried out more effectively in the country.
"Yes, we hope we can because we want to have it in more strategic locations. It is not that we need to have a branch in every community but we are just looking at the map. So maybe just one or two areas where we see shortcomings we would like to have branches," she said.
Charter-Rolle informed The Sun that in the absence of Red Cross branches there are community disaster response teams that serve as the eyes and ears on the ground for the society.