Red Cross volunteering: in the Great White North and Panama's jungles

Guest blog by Red Cross volunteer J. Keith Howie

Even though I volunteer for Red Cross in Alberta when I am there, some might call me a fair weather friend these days and I’m fine with that. After all, there is no snow to shovel in Panama this time of year. I can escape the Great White North to experience a completely different way of life and do more volunteering from Panama’s jungles. 

Certainly, it’s been my pleasure to be a photographer with the Canadian Red Cross in Calgary for several years now. I always get tremendous satisfaction from contributing my skills to such a worthwhile organization. But recently, I started spending about half of my year near Panama City in a place called Los Altos de Cerro Azul, and I realized I had lots of time to fill.

This year, I was able to connect with Red Cross in Panama to offer my assistance as a photographer. The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has its office here for The Americas Zone, which covers North and South America, as well as the Caribbean. I learned that this office assisted during the Alberta Floods of 2013. 

There are actually members of the Canadian Red Cross and American Red Cross embedded in this IFRC operation. The office is located in the prestigious City of Knowledge area, which requires organizations to qualify before opening there.

There is also a warehouse, run by Global Logistics Service, which is the logistical arm of the IFRC.  This is one of five locations with its head office in Dubai, UAE. The Panama warehouse is in an area called Panama Pacifica, which has its own air strip because it is a former American Air Force base. That, along with easy access to the Panama Canal, allows for efficient movement of materials by ship or air. 

My first assignment for the IFRC was to photograph a meeting announcing the release of the “World Disasters Report 2015,” which is a 263-page document produced each year. It is about disasters around the world. The event, held in the warehouse building, had guests from several embassies in The Americas Zone scope. 

audience listening to a man speaking at a podium. At the front of the room there is a slide show and two more men sitting at a table.

Photo taken by J. Keith Howie at the announcement of the World Disasters Report in Panama.

After the presentation, my camera and I wandered through the warehouse which was full of non-perishable equipment and supplies that would be needed to quickly assist in any disaster. The warehouse is meticulously maintained. Pallets are all lined up. The floor is clean and painted, and caution areas are clearly marked with fresh yellow paint. Very professional! 

An adjacent building, also a warehouse, had a number of clean, white trucks backed carefully into loading bays, all on the same angle, evenly spaced, and with wheels carefully straightened. A whiteboard, in the warehouse office, attested to the ongoing activity involving inbound and outbound shipments that were planned and in progress. 

I am looking forward to developing my North-South relationship with Red Cross in Panama. It fits perfectly into the NGO focus of my photography.  

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