Each week we will be running Q&As with Australian women doing vital humanitarian and aid work. Women you may not have heard of.
This week meet Libby Bowell, Australian Red Cross Health Aid Worker in Nepal.
1. What does your role entail on a day-to-day basis?
Every mission is different but right now, I am working with Red Cross in Nepal. My role has been to set up a health program in an areas heavily affected by earthquakes, run over the next one to two years. On a day-to-day basis, my role also involves supporting the local Nepalese Red Cross to build capacity to respond better in future emergencies. As the international Red Cross, we stand side-by-side with our local counterparts to help make dealing with the emergency a little easier. I can be working at the headquarters level or in the ‘field’ or in local communities with local families.
Libby Bowell in Nepal. Photo: Victor Laken, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).
2. How did you become involved in humanitarian/aid work?
I was working as a remote area nurse in the Northern Territory and met other nurses who worked between remote and international humanitarian aid work. There are many similarities between remote Australia and international aid – the isolation, the lack of resources, the needs of the communities, so it seemed like a natural next step. The compliment between remote health in Australia and international work has been very valuable.
3. What are the most rewarding/challenging parts of your job?
The most rewarding part, as cliché as it sounds, is being able to make a difference in people's lives. We don't get to do that as much in Australia but in the humanitarian world, the needs are huge yet often simple, like the ability to prevent or stop a diarrhoea outbreak by just teaching people about washing their hands with soap. Watching women become empowered with knowledge that can change their own lives and their children's futures is very rewarding. When a woman can stop her children from getting sick, her standing in the community is often recognised and the information shared at market places and around washing points.
The challenges are endless really. We do what we can but so often, these emergencies are in countries where poverty and needs are already so high. A cholera outbreak in Freetown in Sierra Leone is always going to be hard when less than 10% of the population have access to a toilet and less than 30% can drink a cup of safe drinking water.
4. In general, do you think Australians are generous givers?
I like to think so. I like to think people give what they can when they can but a lot of the problem lies in the reality that today's news becomes old news very quickly. How many people think of Nepal six months after the earthquake? How many people know that there is a fuel crisis that has entered its second month and that it's getting very cold here? Fuel means gas as well, so people are running out of it very quickly now – no gas, no cooking and heating as well as major difficulties in daily commuting. It is starting to cripple industries and there is no end in sight.