EMERGENCY USA Board President Anna Gilmore recently attend the 2014 EMERGENCY International Conference in Milan where the great leaders, volunteers and staff member of the organization gathered to talk about what’s been doing and where we are going. She shares her experiences here:
The conference opening presentation was given by Cecilia Strada, the president of EMERGENCY. She emphasized the fact that the organization has grown a great deal in 20 years but especially more recently as clinics and hospitals were added in Iraq (2 clinics), CAR (surgical center upgrade), Sierra Leone. With these initiatives, the work of EMERGENCY has become recognized by agencies monitoring and coordinating humanitarian initiatives at the global scale. The implication is that an investment of time and effort will need to be dedicated towards assessing abilities, and intelligently advancing the capacity. The organization will need to build, add metrics and data/information collection and analytical procedures, while continuing to run the agile, excellent, sustainable programs at the larger scale.
This year, representatives of the national staff presented to the attendees in greater numbers than I recall from past meetings. It was moving to hear several of these staff members mention a history of working for EMERGENCY for 10 or more years and each planned to continue working for EMERGENCY for the “next 20 years.” Dr. Gerard, from the Central African Republic program emphasized that “Surgery is so important for our people.” And one of the specialized ICU nurses from the Salam Centre described her personal decision to continue working even as it was very challenging at times juggling her responsibilities as a mother and a wife as well as a professional clinician. She described the fact that the fulfillment of working at the Salam Centre more than balanced out the tough and tiring moments of personal demands.
In addition to the personal testimonies of the national staff, an additional recurring theme was the reminder that we cannot take peace for granted but must be diligent and continue in our work to spread a culture of peace and to be ready to respond when conflicts erupt. The current challenges faced by civilians in conflict zones are dramatic in Afghanistan, Central African Republic, and in Iraq. The presentations from these programs were stark reminders of the importance of the EMERGENCY model, which implies being prepared, with a solid structure, trained staff with everyone equipped for an excellent surgical and medical response.
This year I was also very inspired by conversations and tremendously enjoyed time spent getting to know representatives from the international network of EMERGENCY: Nicole, Eleonora, Serena of the UK, Stefania of Hong Kong, Carlo and Pippo of Belgium, and Kayoko of Japan. In addition to representatives of these formalized groups, it was a pleasure to meet Franco of Austria who is pursuing establishment of a group in Vienna.
Nicole of the UK group put it well when she noted:
“One of the things that most impresses me about EMERGENCY is its strong volunteering culture. It was awesome to see many hundreds of volunteers traveling from all over Italy and the corners of the world to participate in the conference. Although our work as volunteers can sometimes seem far removed from our hospitals and patients, seeing the great number of volunteers reminded me that the effort of every individual contributes to treatment of someone who would otherwise be unable to access healthcare. We each have a role to play and I was inspired to see that united action can bring real impact!”