Getting the experience needed to respond to disasters and emergencies

By Olivia Joerges

The Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement relies on dedicated staff and volunteers to carry out emergency operations. To have the right people, in the right place, at the right time; the Movement has been implementing new efforts under surge optimization. Our people are at the heart of the Movement, not just because of their hard work and dedication, but also their willingness to both learn and teach new skills.
Many efforts are being made globally to harmonize learning processes and to formalize learning opportunities, which will allow the Red Cross to provide staff and volunteers with more tools to work effectively in the field.
One of these opportunities is shadow deployments, where two or more members of the Movement are sent to the field together to share experiences, knowledge and skills, and to strengthen their profiles for future deployments on their own. The purpose of this learning environment is building team knowledge and capacity.


To encourage this learning environment between Red Cross aid workers, the Americas Regional Office, guided by the surge optimization process, actively seeks to send people into the field not only based on their training and experience, but also in large part based on their competencies.
There are times when an aid worker may have a strong professional background and training, but more limited field experience. In these situations, they can be deployed with another aid worker who has had more field experience. The idea behind this is to give them the opportunity to learn new skills they have not yet been able to apply in the field, supporting peer to peer learning while also providing exceptional service to the emergency operation being supported.

Jaime Eduardo Pineda Fernández and Vanesa Colsa are two Red Crossers who met during their recent shadow deployment in Panama, Brazil and Trinidad.

The shadow team

Jaime and VanessaJaime has been with the Colombian Red Cross for over 24 years and has worked both nationally and internationally. His partner in crime during this mission, Vanesa, works as an Emergency Response Unit (ERU) Logistics Delegate for the Swiss Red Cross and has been sent on missions in Haiti, Nepal and Bangladesh.

On this deployment Jaime’s role was to shadow Vanesa to learn more about logistics assessment. Working as a strong team, their job was to determine what supplies were needed by those migrating from Venezuela and other countries of the region. 

“I remember the whole mission had a great sense of humour, we were a team,” Vanesa reminisced. “At the same time, it was a difficult mission in the sense that we were talking to the people that had left their communities, so sometimes the stories were tough. But we were a great team.”

Overcoming challenges

Compared to previous operations, the two were challenged by their limited contact between their team and the local Red Cross.

“All the team that was deployed had the same challenge, trying to get information about the community, about the people in the streets,” Jaime said.

With some investigation, they were able to gather information from local people, exploring markets, and attending meetings with other UN agencies in the field.

“We don’t have a lot of information on this population movement—about what is going on, so it’s really important to understand what is happening there, that there are a lot of people in need coming out of Venezuela,” Vanesa explained.

Although the team had their challenges, Jaime and Vanesa both agreed their time working together was one of the highlights of their deployment. Aside from their complimentary partnership, the pair loved meeting new volunteers in the Movement and making a positive difference in people’s stories.

“That feeling of movement that I felt [in this mission], is one of my favourite things about the Red Cross,” Vanesa said. 


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