By Patricia Ler, Corporate Communications and Marketing

“If you really want to explore a place, you will go to the heart of it.” That is John Mathew’s life motto. The outgoing 31 year-old Indian national, who works at a local IT firm specialising in data storage and backup, shares his insight on how he keeps himself meaningfully occupied amidst his hectic work schedule. He is a nature photography enthusiast with a big heart for the elderly.

John enrolled in a first aid course at Singapore Red Cross (SRC) Academy because he understood the importance of first aid when one of his local rock climbing friends met with a near-fatal accident during his climb.

He received a call from Fara Roslan, SRC’s District Manager for Northeast, under the Community Resilience team. She had introduced him to ElderAid, a service where volunteers befriend and care for the isolated elders. He swiftly accepted the invitation to join, as he has always been attached to the older generation.

“I admire their fighting spirit,” he said.

John observed that the level of receptiveness from the elders in his home country and Singapore may differ. Yet, their life experiences taught him precious lessons which he would not have gained otherwise. He perceives the elders as his role models.

“You learn many things and get a lot of advice from the elders. Some of them really touched me with their words,” he says with a beaming smile.

Notwithstanding his busy schedule, he visits an elderly beneficiary fortnightly together with volunteers Fong Kwok Onn and Jennifer Ayson. They conduct regular health assessments on the elderly beneficiary and bring him to picnics or strolls at East Coast Park or Gardens by the Bay. Such excursions bring joy to both the befrienders and the elders as they share common memories together.

“You cannot force anything on anyone. Volunteering means you are stepping out on your own terms,” acknowledged John. He encourages his Singaporean friends to join him on this meaningful journey.

If you are ready to join John in building community resilience with our elderly, volunteer as a befriender in your neighbourhood today. To find out more, please visit

By Sarah Cai Wanqiu, Volunteer, Singapore Red Cross

Green and Humanitarian

Should humanitarian organisations focus on the environment of humans or on humans within the environment? Our five speakers shared various possibilities along this spectrum at the Singapore Red Cross Humanitarian Conference 2017 on “Green Initiatives and Sustainability in Humanitarian Response” at Fort Canning Lodge on 28 October 2017.

Caroline Gårdestedt hails from the Swedish Red Cross and is senior advisor in green response and sanitation in emergencies. Eseroma Ledua, Operations Manager, Fiji Red Cross started in youth work and is now operations manager. Daniel Jesudason, Managing Director, Promises Pte Ltd is a social entrepreneur who supports various rehabilitation and post-disaster rebuilding initiatives. Lee Kay Lian, Chief Operating Officer, POD Structures Pte Ltd is an architect who develops solutions for humanitarian needs. Singapore Red Cross volunteer Victor Ng volunteers in disaster response with the Singapore Red Cross.


Environmental issues, humanitarian problems

Did you know that polluted water kills more people than war? Caroline stated the issue right away: environmental issues form the root cause of many humanitarian problems. Unsustainable management of natural resources has led to man-made disasters and aggravated natural ones.

But humanitarian efforts may not be conscious of their own environmental impact. The Haiti shelter response alone generated as high carbon emissions as Haiti’s annual rate. How sustainable then is the entire response?

The goal of the Red Cross is to save lives and relieve suffering, and also to minimise adverse environmental impact. While we do not focus per se on saving the environment, we could apply such knowledge and techniques to save lives without putting the health, survival and livelihood of these same people at risk. Greater respect of the local mindset can also enhance the capacity of beneficiaries and build up resilience.


A “small tiny place we call Fiji and I call home”

With undeniable humour, Eseroma, dressed in traditional sulu, introduced himself as the man with a skirt. Some 10 hours’ flight away, Fiji is an archipelago of a few hundred islands in the Pacific. And here, climate change is very real. It threatens sustainability of important sectors of the national economy dependent on coastal and marine resources. Rising sea levels also mean relocating villages even when families are reluctant to leave their ancestral land.

Partnerships are thus vital. The Fijian Red Cross works closely with local communities, and in particular, some 60 communities identified as most vulnerable to climate change. The point is to speak to the people on the ground, to actually do the work, to build up communities as a whole.

Within the Red Cross, volunteer contributions are recognised, both staff and volunteers are constantly engaged and their skills are enhanced with local and overseas training. Communication networks strengthen the bond and build up a strong staff core. Perhaps it is through such strong relationships that each member finds its home; home is where one cares for one another.


Localised innovation, no compromises

Why focus on local communities? Daniel has more than enough experience to know the value of local communities who take ownership of social projects. External agencies bring in ideas, but the locals see projects through. Similarly, local communities can own environmental issues and relook unsustainable practices.

Local ownership means pride in both end product and material sourcing. Villages and communities support initiatives where their own labour benefits their own economy. With enhanced awareness of their own natural resources, the community now wants to protect their environment. It is no longer a foreign conservation mindset imposed upon them, it is now integrated as local culture.

Another key aspect would be to identify the middle management that can drive projects. With an upper echelon too detached from the actual work, the middle level is where skills, values and concepts can be introduced. Simply put, we are looking at a ground-up movement. Daniel pays attention to actors others might consider insignificant. Children can bring messages of change. Villages can build up local economy and more. Indeed, technology can drive innovation, but what must first innovate is our mindset.


Reuse, recycle, repurpose

Kay Lian led us into his session by introducing an economy of sharing. Balance calls for putting what is not needed to other uses for which it is needed. From this, we build up a culture of resilience, we look for sustainability. We are not talking about survival. We are talking about rebuilding lives.

A humanitarian response sets up temporary solutions with sites that outlast the lifespan of the aid itself. At the same time, disasters are increasing in frequency. This makes them more predictable, allowing a pre-emptive response. Hence, architecture can allow for the repurposing of existing structure for future needs. All that is needed is a modular design that can be adapted and embellished without complicated equipment.

The ideal shelter ought to be ready to be transported and set up. The shelter should be adapted to local traditions and local climate. With fully functional furniture, it should also provide for the basic energy and security needs of its occupants. Even if, to some, architecture and humanitarian causes might have been an unlikely trans-disciplinary venture, Kay Lian shows how both fields can benefit from such synergy. New possibilities, new solutions, all for a new future.

Victor 1

Trust and resilience

Victor has more than just photographs of good food to share. Slide after slide shared his training and deployment opportunities, whether adding taste additives to water to suit the local palate or bringing flood relief to Vietnamese communities.

Just as the previous speakers have commented, it is the locals who understand their context best and have their coping mechanisms against the floods. They may also have far simpler and sustainable solutions than what external organisations are likely to implement. Similarly, it was the local Red Cross branches who had been working with the vulnerable people. When disaster struck, trust was already there, and this trust was transferred easily to other Red Cross National Societies.

What fuelled this trust was also the will to want to get out of the disaster. It is a resilience that Victor testified to, speaking of wars and many hardships endured by the Vietnamese people. They are a hardy people, he esteems. And it is this grit that helps communities through the worst and emerge stronger from it.

Through the five speakers, we saw how global issues necessitated a green response. We looked at how the need for sustainable solutions is very real in Fiji. We understood the importance of mind-sharing to help local communities develop their own initiatives. We realised how there is no choice but to inject sustainable design into humanitarian response. Victor ended his sharing with a call for partnerships and volunteers. The Red Cross is always open to more opportunities; everyone has something to contribute, why not you?