Against a White Background
Against a white background, two shapes in black among many shapes in white. This is Saudi HEART Batch 2. Were the time two months earlier, one would have seen a nearly perfect match of shapes in Batch 1. The white shapes are the twenty five men in their traditional Abayas and black shapes are the two women of Batch 2 in theirs. They are now at the end of their first five weeks of Saudi HEART training. Five weeks gone and 11 more weeks to go to complete the Core Curriculum of this program. So far they have completed an introductory Disaster Management Course, a Presentation Skills Course and a course conducted by the International Federation and International Committee of the Red Cross / Red Crescent.
What is Saudi HEART? In Saudi Arabia, the National Red Crescent organization is called the Saudi Red Crescent Authority (SRCA). It has a national headquarters here in Riyadh and branches in most cities. Until now, SRCA has responded to disasters in other countries by providing direct monetary contributions or contributions in kind – food, shelter, non-food items (NFIs) – cooking utensils, bedding, fuel, tools, etc. Saudi HEART (Humanitarian Emergency Aid and Response Team), is the first effort to train and prepare Saudi citizens for deployment to humanitarian emergencies abroad.
At the outset, eight hundred people responded to requests for applicants. Four hundred where interviewed and participated in entrance exams. Seventy were selected for the first two “Batches”. Batch One participants completed their Core Courses in October in the same week that Batch Two began. Batch One participants selected one of two specialized tracks for additional training. One is called the Public Health Cluster, and they have participated in two special courses so far, Water, Sanitation and Health (WASH) and Epidemic Control. The other is the Logistics and Shelter Cluster and they have completed a course in Facilities and Supplies Management and will begin a Shelter course at the end of the first week in December.
Many of the Saudi HEART participants have medical backgrounds. Some are doctors, many are trained as Emergency Medical Technicians. Others have backgrounds in other professions such as education. Two are university teachers.
English is the language of instruction in the HEART program and passing an English proficiency exam is part of the selection criteria. The language skills of some, those who have studied abroad in the US or UK, are very good. More than half need a lot of vocabulary and more public speaking opportunities. In the presentation skills course week before last, everyone’s performance improved dramatically. So, we have modified the program for Batch 3, which starts in March. We will begin with presentation skills.
I like the participants. They are warm, friendly, interested, enthusiastic, and generous. Being the believer I am in practical, hands-on training, I am inclined more toward doing than talking about doing. For example, I mentioned that we have people in the Shelter and Logistics Cluster. Next week, four of them will come in for a special event. SRCA has ordered and we have received equipment for WASH training and for the Shelter course. The logistics folk will track the order from here to the supply source and the supplies from there to here and will then inventory everything. They will then prepare a report and a presentation for their peers.
Looking ahead, Batch One will do a SPHERE Standards Course Next Week followed by a Disaster Risk Communication Course, which my friend and colleague Paul Giannone will be leading. Then we have three days of special activities – negotiation, relationship and trust building and then I am on the way home for the holidays.
So, what am I doing here? Several people out there have asked me this question. When I think about the answer, I think first of my sister Annie – a master quilt maker. One can imagine that a training program is like an elaborate quilt project. There are different colors and sizes and shapes and patterns of quilt fabric. There are big quilts and not so big. There is an overall design, sometimes drawn on paper and sometimes etched in the mind of the quilter. There are often many people working on the same quilt. Saudi HEART, were it a quilt, would be of good size. There are a lot of people working on it. Some full time, some part-time. The part time folk are the Resource People – the experts and trainers who each bring a different size and shape and color of training course. The full timers in Riyadh are four of us. A project manager, whose job is partly human resource management, partly record keeping, partly liaison with the powers that be in SRCA and partly whatever comes across his desk. A logistics and admin guy who handles all transportation, accommodation, purchasing, record keeping, petty and not so petty cash and a hundred other things. An assistant logistics guy, who does things like local supplies purchasing, local contracts, general support. And me. I am the Disaster Management Training Specialist. My job is to add the occasional piece of fabric, to get as many as I can of the quilt pieces in their proper places in the overall design, and get them stitched in place so they don’t overlap and leave as few and as small gaps between pieces as possible. Would that I were as able to do this as Annie is with her quilts.
On the place. Riyadh is dry and dusty, although we have had two nights this week with rain. In every direction one can see only dust in the air – maybe near in or off a ways. Today, November 27 is dustier than most because we have a breeze blowing. I do miss the mountains – ours in Washington or those in Haute Savoie in France. There are some near here, but one cannot see them and I haven’t had time yet for a visit.