For over 10 years, Erwan Cheneval has been doing humanitarian work around the world.  In 2006, he was trying to figure out where he could use his diverse knowledge and experience. When he saw a posting for a job as a logistician with Médecins Sans Frontières, a broad role which included everything from construction to vehicle coordination to admin he was more than interested. “When I was reading the description I thought ‘that’s me!’” he said, “I got the job, it’s the job I was made for.”

Erwan is now a Rapid Response Manager with the Canadian Red Cross, a new role which helps address some of the challenges of mobilizing humanitarian operations. Erwan explained, “The Red Cross has an amazing network of people, but you never know in advance who will be available to deploy with the Emergency Response Unit (ERU). There are also things you need to consider about the people being deployed, do they have experience, speak the language? So some of the key roles need to be professionalized. The purpose of my work is to be ready for deployment if needed. I spend 60% of my time in the field.  Since the ERU isn’t in the field all the time I can get deployed for things like trainings, or as part of a Field Assessment Coordination Team (FACT).”

Erwan’s role began in September, and by early October Hurricane Matthew was moving in towards Haiti. An already vulnerable country, Haiti was hit hard by the storm and the Red Cross quickly mobilized. Erwan was part of the first rotation of aid workers who were sent as part of the Canadian Red Cross’ response.

This Haiti response was unique for the Canadian Red Cross, for the first time the ERU would be entirely mobile. In past responses, the ERU has included a hospital or clinic in a fixed location, along with a possible mobile clinic that will visit more remote areas. But it was determined that the best way to deliver medical care to impacted people was to send the care more directly to them.

The mobile clinic would move from place to place with Red Cross personnel in vehicles. Healthcare in these remote communities was already a challenge, and the storm left some areas even more isolated.
“In terms of management and logistics it was extremely interesting, and it also meant we looked at how we could do the work in a different way. It was a learning curve, but also really successful. We could see a lot of patients, 3,500 in three months.”

When asked for a moment that stood out to him during his deployments or “something amazing” that had happened, Erwan replied “There is always something amazing happening when you do emergency response, in many different ways and many different senses.”  But he did recall a moment when he heard that a young girl in Haiti who had come to the clinic extremely ill, and had required two months of care had recovered fully. “I could hear that we had made a difference,” he said, “a small one, but a good one.”

Recently, Erwan returned from FACT deployments to Tanzania and Madagascar. He will soon be deploying with the Canadian Red Cross again.

Erwan has been deployed to many places, but says there are some things that are always the same whether you’re a person who has to leave their home due to a flood in Canada, or in a community recovering from a hurricane in Haiti, “A person who has lost something needs help – the purpose of this work is to bring that help.”