When the world’s next natural disaster happens, former West Kelowna mayor Rosalind Neis will have 48 hours to decide whether or not she will get on a plane to help those in need.
Neis’s journey with the Red Cross began after she got a call from the organization in January.
“I’d actually applied to them about three years ago and forgotten all about it,” said Neis.
Since then, Neis has done extensive online training, visited Ottawa twice for courses and taken part in a simulation training exercise.
Neis, an operating room nurse, said that she learned there are two major branches of the Red Cross: The International Federation of the Red Cross and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
“The ICRC’s mandate is to protect and assist the victims of armed conflict and armed violence—as such, we work in situations of war, armed violence and political tensions,” said Simon Schorno, head of media relations for the ICRC.
But according to Neis, that branch didn’t appeal to her as much as the IFRC, which focuses its efforts on areas that have been struck by natural disasters.
“My interest is more in the disaster relief area; I’m 50 now and I don’t think I can outrun a bullet,” said Neis.
Neis and 29 others took part in a realistic training course in Schomberg, ON this past April. She said that the team of 30 was put in a field with several crates of equipment, similar to what would be dropped off by a plane in a real disaster zone.
“We set up the hospital, the anesthesia machine, the operating room table and all the tents.
“There were no amenities, nothing. You’re in the bush and you’re setting this all up. . .it took about three days.”
After the simulated Red Cross camp was set up, Neis and her teammates were called into action.
“The did a mock thing at midnight where they said, “Incoming,” and there were 25 people that showed up with amazing makeup. It looked like they had gashes, cuts and they were carrying limbs.
“You’re just on such a rush, it all seemed so real. . .that’s the kind of preparation and real life training we got, to see what it’s like.”
Neis said that the experience also taught her a bit about herself.
“I have a hard time not being in control or in charge. . .what I learned from the week in the bush is that other people are just as capable, just as smart and just as able to lead and make decisions. ..I learned that it’s OK to be a follower.”
Now that Neis has completed all of her training and gotten all required immunizations, she just needs to fill out a few more documents before she’s added to the Red Cross’ roster for disaster relief.
“A natural disaster occurs and the government tries to assess it and see if they need any help. . .once they’ve officially requested assistance, the Red Cross sends an alert to all the people on their roster—you have 48 hours to confirm that you will be there. You drop everything and go.”
Leaving at a moment’s notice isn’t easy, but Neis said she feels like it will be worth it.
“I’ve spoken to a lot of my colleagues that have gone and done this sort of work—not with the Red Cross, but with churches or Rotary. They come back kind of changed, in a good way.
“Also, I’m a mom and I’ve got kids and I want to instill upon them the obligation that we have as humanity to help people.
“And it’s an adventure, you can’t deny there’s a certain amount of an adrenaline rush to this kind of stuff as well.”
Neis added she is fond of the way the Red Cross provides assistance to those in need.
“They’re really all about empowering the people of the country they go to. They don’t want to come in and provide health care for six months then leave—they want to train local people to take over for them.
“All the (equipment) that the Red Cross takes over there, they leave behind for that country and those people to keep on using.”
For more information or to donate to the Canadian Red Cross, visit redcross.ca.