Working in emergencies means accountability, engagement, trust and acceptance: Building capacity in Ethiopia

By Calli Forbes, Communications Aid Worker
Community members participate in responsesEthiopia is a country that has experienced its fair share of disasters over the years. However, the country’s challenges are often overshadowed by larger-scale disasters and conflicts happening around the world.
But for Red Cross volunteer Geremew Anamo, the realities of his country are hard to ignore.
“People are in a difficult situation,” he says, “They are seeking shelter and food. They cannot educate their children.”
Across Ethiopia, volunteers like Geremew are being trained as branch disaster response team volunteers. Through presentations and hands-on training, they are learning how to set up and coordinate camps for people displaced by disaster, distribute relief supplies like food, hygiene products and water, and work in coordination and partnership with other community and government agencies.
A key aspect of the training includes incorporating activities that ensure the participation of impacted communities through all phases of an emergency response, also known as community engagement and accountability. This includes providing information to impacted communities, listening and acting on community feedback, and supporting communities to speak out.

“Community engagement and accountability is a [fairly] new approach for us,” says Engida Manfredo, Ethiopian Red Cross Deputy Secretary General. “We need to be accountable, to involve the community starting from the assessment through to evaluation. The community needs to be there.”

Recently, Red Cross volunteers have been putting this training into practice, as more than 2.4 million people throughout Ethiopia have been displaced due to conflict over the past year. Volunteers are distributing supplies, like food, cooking materials and hygiene items, to families living in host communities.
An example includes setting up a space where people can confidentially share their needs, provide feedback and ask questions during the distribution of aid. By placing communities at the centre of this work, Engida says the National Society can provide assistance in a safer, more dignified manner.
These types of activities are important when it comes to gaining the trust and acceptance of impacted communities
“Our volunteers are living with the community, they speak the same language, they have the same culture,” Engida says. “Red Cross is the community and we are very proud of that.”
For nearly 20 years, Geremew has supported his community through drought, famine, flooding and now conflict. Through it all, he says he remains hopeful that his community and his country will see a better future – one that is free of violence and suffering.
“I wish to see Ethiopia be a peaceful and secure country where the citizens live with honour and freedom.”
Through support from the Government of Canada, the Canadian Red Cross has been working in countries across Africa as part of the Capacity Strengthening for Emergency Response in Africa (SERA) program. This includes training local Red Cross Societies in partner countries to help them be better prepared to respond to disasters.

Related stories:
Working together to support Ethiopians displaced by conflict
A mother's love knows no boundaries: Stories from Ethiopia

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