10 January 2013

Tanzania: Fifty Years of Service As Red Cross Looks Forward

THE Tanzania Red Cross Society, a leading disaster humanitarian agency in the country, has started activities to mark its 50th anniversary.

Looking back at the organization's semi centennial existence in Tanzania, Raymond Kanyambo, the Society's Public Relations and Communications Officer, said last year and 2013 will be used to mark 50 years of its establishment. Tanzania Red Cross was established by an Act No. 71 of 31st December, 1962.

It is part of a global disaster and humanitarian agency, International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, which works to support public authorities in alleviating all forms of human suffering during peaceful and disasters or emergency periods without discrimination. Mr Kanyambo said they are aiming at protecting health and life in safeguarding human dignity. He said they are further building the capacity of zonal offices and that of vulnerable communities to anticipate, prepare for, and respond to emergencies/disasters in order to reduce risks and enhance community resilience.

The Red Cross will also continue to build capacity of vulnerable communities to be able respond to health risks related to all the major public health concerns such as HIV/ AIDS, malaria, maternal and child health. The society's records show that before independence of Tanganyika in 1961, the Society worked as a branch of British Red Cross since 1949, in the then British Colony of Tanganyika.

It shows that the Society is part and parcel of the world-wide International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, a voluntary humanitarian organization which works to support public authorities in alleviating all forms of human suffering, in peace and during disasters/emergencies. According to International Red Cross objectives, it also aims at protecting health and life, to safeguard human dignity. The Movement's major areas of work are disaster management and undertaking of emergency relief supplies.

The Red Cross and its affiliates worldwide also promote humanitarian values where they disseminate humanitarian ideals of the Society and the International Humanitarian Law in order to foster a better world to live in. The Society's mandate is derived from the seven fundamental principles approved by the Movements' supreme organ of representation and governance which is the International Conference of the Red Cross in 1965.

According to records, the Tanganyika Branch of the British Red Cross was largely an elite sort of "Club". It was based only in a few major towns and was manned almost entirely by members of the white colonial masters. Its work was also "one off" and purely charitable, focusing on merely giving and not essentially to change lives as such. The newly emerging Tanganyika Red Cross, had therefore many challenges to overcome and biggest of them all, was how to transform the institution into one of a national character.

A broad, community based membership organization, with the requisite structures and systems and able to respond to the needs of the most vulnerable. This required substantial resource outlay which the new society neither had not the means to acquire. Worst of all, because of the Society's involvement in blood donor recruitment programmes to support hospitals, there had developed a misconception in the local communities linking the Red Cross with blood sucking activities, (commonly known in Kiswahili as MUMIANI).

This unfortunate development made the work of the new society even harder and dangerous in the community. However, great concerted efforts were undertaken to dispel the myth both then and in the subsequent years by the few staff members, volunteers and local authorities. Great support was also rendered to the new Society by several truly committed and selfless individuals, who provided both the required financial and material support to bolster it.

Tribute is paid here to the late John Rupia who was the first Chairman and major supporter to the society. Tribute is also paid to the Karimjee family and many other business people whose support was most invaluable in propping up the young society. The late Mama Mary Mackeja, who was the Society's first post independence Secretary General is also greatly remembered as an outstanding lady who laid down the foundation of this great institution in Tanzania.

The 1970s and 1980s represent the period during which the first major organizational development took place and entirely changed the landscape and public profile of the Tanzania Red Cross Society in the country. These changes resulted from the following developments: A five years development programme undertaken between 1973 - 1978, supported by the Finish Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (then the League of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies) , enabled the society to establish the first regional and sub-regional Red Cross structures in the country.

Trained and well equipped field officers were posted to the first seven regions, which later on expanded to eleven. Their responsibilities involved sensitizing communities, recruit new members and organize them into functional branches, including carrying out leadership elections and starting up local activities. This programme laid down the foundation which is today the backbone of all Red Cross activities in the country.

Complimenting the establishment of a regional Red Cross organization, as explained above, was the formation of a nationwide Red Cross youth movement which subsequently came to be a major player in the development of the Tanzania Red Cross in the country as a whole. Behind all this however, was a vibrant National Youth Committee of dedicated volunteers whose vision and methods of engaging young people in and out of schools greatly enhanced the public image of the Tanzania Red Cross.

Youth people are a great resource and an important target in the Red Cross movement. The Red Cross pays special attention to the need to bring up responsible young adults by inculcating into them the great ideals founded in the Red Cross institution. The Red Cross youth movement aims to teach young people the importance of service to others, adaptation of health habits of living, the development of a sense of social responsibility and creation of international solidarity and friendship among the young people of different nations.

Equipped with this philosophy, the TRC's National Youth Committee acted very effectively to establish one of the most active Red Cross youth movements on the African continent. A youth department was established at the headquarters in Dar es Salaam which worked with respective field officers and volunteers to steer up formation of youth links like clubs in and outside schools.

The youth movement came to be a great source of the society's volunteers and staff, and many adults today still remember their earlier school days as Red Cross youth members. More results were gained in 1977 when the Tanzania Red Cross society hosted a Pan-African Red Cross Youth Conference, which was held at the University of Dar es Salaam.

Following the successful outcome of this conference, one of the key players in the Tanzania Red Cross youth committee, Vice- Chairperson, Mohammed Othman Chande (current Chief Justice of Tanzania) was appointed Assistant Youth Director to spearhead the formation of a Youth Directorate at IFRCRC in Geneva, Switzerland.

The Southern Africa Programme was an initiative of the Federation and it was aimed at strengthening the capacity of Red Cross Societies in the Southern Africa regions (Tanzania included), to respond to frequent disasters and emergencies that were facing the region at that time. Such situations included refugee influxes from countries facing liberation wars against colonial administration and frequent droughts that led to chronic food insecurity, floods and epidemics such as cholera, etc.

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