ICRC aid workers Kerry Page, reviewing the figures on Afghanistan's health program with the country's most experienced and longest serving Health Field Officer.
ICRC aid workers Kerry Page, reviewing the figures on Afghanistan's health program with the country's most experienced and longest serving Health Field Officer. ICRC

This Buderim woman spent Christmas in a war zone

AS MOST of us juggled a drink and turning the meat on a barbecue over Christmas one Buderim woman experienced a white Christmas in a war zone.

It wasn't London or the US, rather, it was Afghanistan where International Committee of the Red Cross nurse Kerry Page saw snow fall over the festive season.

Based in nearby Tajikistan, the Florence Nightingale Medal-winning nurse has been flying in and out of Afghanistan since April, 2016, when she began her role as War Wounded Assistance Program Manager.

She finished her previous role in South Sudan in October 2015, enjoying a brief stint back home before heading back to Afghanistan, a place she was based in 2010-11.

Unfortunately she hasn't seen much change in the six years that passed.

"I was here in 2010-2011 and I find that little has changed since then," she said.

"Peace unfortunately is no closer."

 

First snow of the season in Maraz-I-Sharif  - ICRC aid workers Kerry Page with a colleague from Yemen, Jabr Mohammed Nasser Al-Ahrak.
First snow of the season in Maraz-I-Sharif - ICRC aid workers Kerry Page with a colleague from Yemen, Jabr Mohammed Nasser Al-Ahrak. ICRC

As we sweat through another stinking summer, Ms Page has been rugged up, thankful the temperatures hadn't dipped into the negatives when we caught up with her just prior to Christmas.

"The weather here changes dramatically between seasons," she said.

"The summers can see 40C and winters -20C. The local are predicting a cold winter but to-date it has been cold but not in the minuses yet and as I fly over the mountains the snow still remains sparse, but no doubt that will change quickly."

Her flights are limited in where they can venture as they head to different sites to treat casualties of conflict.

"We are very restricted in our movements due to the conflict and that makes the job so much harder as we have to be very inventive on how to reach those in need," Ms Page said.

"There are daily incidents across the country and ICRC is not the target but the risk is of being in the wrong place at the wrong time."

The program she manages focuses on war wounded, both civilian and combatants, as International Law dictates all wounded comabtants should receive care, and her program includes supporting medical facilities with materials as well as First Aid training, protecting health facilities, ambulances, health staff and patients as well as transport of wounded to care.

Taxi drivers act as ambulance officers in Afghanistan, transporting casualties from hard-to-reach places to hospitals and Ms Page's organisation runs First Aid courses for those drivers.

"I admire enormously these men who risk their lives constantly to help their fellow man," she said.

In the event of attack Ms Page and her team access underground bunkers reinforced to withstand a barrage, however she conceded it was impossible to eliminate all safety risk and it was something "one has to personally evaluate before accepting a mission".

As they work with all parties to the conflict the Red Cross has to keep dialogue open with all parties and Ms Page said the organisation's acceptance was "mostly high" in the area.

"The local people are very welcoming and have a culture of hospitality," she said.

"We have many resident staff who have worked for more than 20 years with the ICRC and it is like a family.

"The beneficiaries are particularly hospitable and appreciate the efforts we are making to reach them."

As many of us carved up Christmas Ham Ms Page was also able to indulge in a little Western traditions, despite Afghanistan being a Muslim country, with the Red Cross declaring it a holiday for all.

It may be one of the last Christmas periods she spends in service.

The well-travelled nurse will return home to Buderim for a few months in April before returning in August for another 18 months.

After that it may be time to return home for good she said.

"Perhaps at the end of the next Afghanistan mission it will be time to hang up the hat and watch the flowers grow, although I hope to continue to work with the Australian Red Cross in my home area," she said.

"I miss the ocean and my morning swims but I'm very aware of how lucky I am that Buderim is my home and that I can return at the end of my mission to a country that is far from conflict."

She said the Red Cross had a mandate to work in countries often shattered by conflict and said the Afghani health system struggled to meet the needs of its people due to the length war.

While the international community couldn't solve all problems she said they continued to work hard to alleviate the situation and help as many as they could.



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