Kenya Red Cross volunteers provide the human force for community health, dissemination, blood donation and disaster management services in the town of Kisumu. Australian Government AVID volunteer, Tina Briggs is working alongside to keep everyone engaged and motivated.
Perched on the broad shores of Lake Victoria in western Kenya, Kisumu's fortunes seem to ebb and flow with the tides. While the lake provides fishing, trade and tourism opportunities to sustain the town's economy, its seasonal flooding pose an ongoing threat to neighbouring communities.
During a flood, the Kisumu branch of Kenya Red Cross Society has its hands full with relief and mitigation activities. In drier times though, the branch is expected to create sources of income to sustain its activities.
It's a classic quandary: an organisation with a broad humanitarian mandate to assist the most vulnerable, a reputation that attracts hundreds of willing volunteers, and a lack of resources to make consistent use of them.
When Tina Briggs arrived at the Kisumu branch, she was surprised to see a large number of young people waiting around the office. "On any given day we have up to 30 volunteers aged 18-28 who drop into the branch," she says. "They may be unemployed or in between college semesters, but they're keenly interested in public health, community development and social work."
An abundance of willing volunteers poses two challenges for Kenya Red Cross: finding the resources to engage young people in its work; and finding ways to keep them motivated and active. It's here that Tina's role really begins: engaging and retaining these volunteers.
The first step was training. Volunteers wanted to enhance their employment skills and Tina was well placed to help them. With her professional experience in human resources, project management and marketing, Tina now delivers regular workshops on presentation skills, job interview skills and writing applications and funding proposals. She has also introduced some weekly energisers - a Red Cross quiz day on Mondays and Frisbee Fridays - to maintain their connection to Red Cross.
The next step was to encourage volunteers to take the lead in organising their own activities. "I had a dozen people put their names down for the role of Volunteer Activity Coordinator, so I rostered them on a weekly basis and gave them the resources to do it. It's nice to see people taking responsibility for team leadership, organisation and communication."
Red Cross branch coordinator Caren Akech has seen a noticeable difference since Tina arrived. "Tina has been instrumental in bringing thr youth together for peer activities, and has motivated them to stay focussed and injected ehtusiasm. She has been a wonderful asset and it is impossible to truly describe how much she has helped the volunteers and myself."
These young people are invaluable assets to Kenya Red Cross: if they can take the lead in identifying new projects and raising funds, the organisation will be able to deliver on its humanitarian mandate in the town of Kisumu.
Tina is quietly confident. "I've had so much cooperation from the people at this branch, it's fantastic. It is great to work with and learn from such talented, enthusiastic and committed people, which inspire me to come into work each day."