- Published on Monday, 28 July 2014 11:15
Stella Gomes-Vrolijk is the Trade Register’s associate who is the first in line to receive and process business license applications for the Aruba Chamber’s board’s advice.
Earlier this month, she stood in a different type of line, one that makes all of us proud to be working with her. On July 14, 2014, the Governor of Aruba, His Excellency mr. F.J. Refunjol, awarded her with an investiture medal, inhuldigingsmedaille, from His Royal Highness, King Willem Alexander, for her work as a Red Cross volunteer during the King’s visit in Aruba in November 2013.
Stella has been a volunteer for the Netherlands’ Chapter of the International Federation of Red Cross in Aruba since 2003. Currently she is a disaster coordinator for Santa Cruz & Paradera and a staff member. As staff member, her daily tasks include coordinating all volunteering schedules of all events that the Red Cross Aruba assists, from fun-run-walks to big events and festivals such as carnivals and concerts.
A Royal Family commemorative medal
The commemorative medal, casually known to everyone in the Dutch Kingdom as a “lintje” (a ribbon), is issued on the occasion of special events of the Royal Family. Commemorative medals are awarded to individuals who have experienced the event up close or to those who have made an effort for the realization of the event. In this case, the medal was to commemorate the investiture of our new King.
“It was handed during an official ceremony in June but since I was attending a Red Cross training abroad, I received mine in July”, adds Stella as she shows me the medal. Last year King Willem Alexander visited the Dutch islands for the first time as king, and during this visit, Red Cross Aruba worked tirelessly to have its volunteers present at all events, where the King and his wife, Queen Maxima, made a public appearance.
It was a week full of preparations and coordination, even though the royal couple was on the island for only three days. Stella volunteered all shifts and for this dedication she received the investiture medal.
Extensive training Regional Intervention Teams (RIT)
Last June, Stella completed a training called Regional Intervention Team (RIT) in French Guyana. It was a very intensive, 10-day training that consisted of Red Cross volunteers from all over the world.
They were sent to a remote location in the jungle in a canoe, where they had to build makeshift camps, build water and sanitation facilities and intense situations were simulated to train the volunteers on how to respond in stress situations that arise during calamities.
“It was a tough training. One must be mentally and physically prepared because you are cut off from all communications. I have a small child, who was sick when I left and there was no way I could know how she was doing while I was gone. But I was there for the training and had to focus because that is how it would be in the aftermath of a real disaster. And the facilitators didn’t make it easy on us. My advantage was that I already had some training on national level and I could communicate in various languages. The training itself was filled with many confrontations. I learned a lot, my limits were tested and it taught me to stand my own ground. I am now a member of the Regional Disaster Response Team (RDRT) and have to repeat the course every three years”, tells Stella.
If there is a disaster in the region, she will be contacted and asked if she can provide assistance. If able to help, she will have to contact the Red Cross Aruba to inform them that she will be travelling to the disaster area to be part of the RDRT.
Basically the team is made up of National Red Cross or Red Crescent Society volunteers or staff, trained to work as a team and bring assistance in neighboring countries. The teams are made up of a group of people with cross-sectoral expertise, such as health, logistics, water and sanitation, as well as generalist relief workers. Most are experienced at providing disaster response in their own countries as well as regionally.
The aim is to promote building of regional capacities in disaster management. “If I decide to go, I will be in a disaster area for approximately two to three weeks, where I will have to write an evaluation of the situation to determine what material is necessary and send it to Pan American Disaster Response Unit (PADRU), which is the organization that coordinates the multilateral disaster management system of the International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC) in the Americas.”
The RIT coordinator evaluates all necessities, such as aid relief, damages to houses, if building a shelter is needed to relocate the inhabitants, etc.
Local or international assistance
Stella is one of three people in the Caribbean with the RIT training. And thus, my next logical assumption was that in case of a natural disaster, she would be able to help. Not exactly, was her answer. As a RIT coordinator she can only act internationally, never in her own country.
But, next to the RIT, there is also the NIT, this is the abbreviation for National Intervention Team; this team operates locally. And the good news here is that Stella is part of the NIT in Aruba as well, as a disaster coordinator for Santa Cruz & Paradera.
The disaster coordinator comes into action whenever there is a disaster on the island. “I am one of the coordinators for the area of Paradera and Santa Cruz. Disaster coordinators are appointed to an area close to where they live so they are able to be quick on location. In case of a disaster, the coordinators gather at an agreed upon central point and from there they go together to the location. Once on location, they evaluate the damage and see where and how the Red Cross can be of assistance.”
A disaster qualifies as anything from natural disasters, such as whirlwinds, water floods from heavy rain, hurricane or any other disaster you can imagine, such as people not having any place to live. Red Cross Aruba has disaster coordinators assigned to all areas on the island.
Originally NIT coordinators can only operate nationally, but the IFRC is realizing that NIT can be helpful abroad as well. Therefore it has been made possible for a RIT coordinator to assemble a team consisting four NIT coordinators and including himself, called Regional Response Unit (RRU) and this way travel abroad to disaster areas in the region.
Stella is eager to put in practice what she has learned. It is important to remain involved otherwise the gained knowledge will fade. Therefore, she is part of a team that is setting up a Vulnerability and Capacity Assessment plan for senior homes of S.A.B.A., a local foundation that takes care of the elderly.
Red Cross Aruba strives to give the volunteers as much training as possible. Learning how to deal with difficult situations and learning how to let go is crucial to perform a good job. After this conversation, I can only conclude that Stella is very grateful for the opportunity given to her to help others, while it should be the other way around. We must be grateful to her, for work and dedication to the Red Cross. So to close this edition of the Chamber News & Views, I would like to add, on behalf of all us at the Chamber that we are proud of you and keep up the good job!