Thursday, August 11, 2022

From jungle training to pandemic relief efforts – CDC volunteers making a difference

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The Civil Defense Commission’s (CDC) Voluntary Emergency Response Team (VERT) programme which began in 2018 with support from ExxonMobil Guyana, the University of Guyana, the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency and the Guyana Defence Force, is now playing an integral role in the national response to COVID-19 in the South American country.

CDC Mitigation and Recovery Manager Allana Walters said in a recent press update that the Commission relied on the support from the specially trained VERT members, especially in the initial stages of the relief effort when its own capabilities were strained.

“We have volunteers who were trained in certain skills such as mapping and those volunteers were able to support the National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC) and Health Emergency Operations Centre in developing maps that were used to track where the hotspots are for COVID-19 cases,” she explained. “Our volunteers hail from diverse backgrounds; they are some of the best and brightest minds from across the country, who came to us with skills already.”

Walters pointed out that these skills are in agriculture, urban planning and development, engineering, and include nurses and doctors that bring together the whole gamut of disaster risk management.

According to the CDC, the volunteers were able to support a variety of activities including assembly of units for isolation of COVID-19 positive persons. “Volunteers have worked at the highest level of the COVID 19 response – at the National COVID-19 Task Force in developing policies. They also helped with smaller but not insignificant tasks such as putting hampers together,” said Community Based Disaster Risk Management Officer, Mariea Harrinaraine. She called the volunteers some of the CDC’s “greatest assets”.

Volunteer Onicka Jones, a communication professional, said the training and experience gained through VERT have prepared her to effectively respond to differing circumstances. “We were in the jungle training learning how to build resilience and dealing with certain challenges. My most recent experience when it comes to dealing with COVID-19 was the building of tents. I left my house at 10 that night and never returned until 10 the next morning. So you need a certain mindset to react and respond to such situations because you never know when the emergency will end…or how long it will last,” she shared.

Fellow volunteer Shameeza David also spoke of the profound nature of volunteerism. She volunteered to assemble housing units, even before being trained to do so. “It’s actually so cool to see the units come together and to see that you’re involved in something so tangible for a good purpose. It is a skill that can always be taken forward,” she said.

Some of the VERT Volunteers providing support for the national COVID-19 relief efforts in Guyana.

These volunteers and coordinators are also calling for more citizens to come forward and offer support to strengthen the work of VERT.

The CDC said ExxonMobil has to date contributed some $GYD 11M and has provided additional training in Incident Command System and oil spill response.

“We welcome the engagement of corporate entities like ExxonMobil Guyana in helping us to prepare, mobilise, train and ready volunteers for emergency response,” Walters said. “The CDC cannot do it alone and often we do not have all the technical skills that corporate entities like ExxonMobil have or the other resources that will help to make us ready.”

ExxonMobil Guyana said providing support to the CDC’s VERT programme is an important part of its overall goal to help Guyana mitigate the impact of accidents and disasters.

“At such a challenging time, it is heartening to see how the CDC and volunteers like those in the VERT programme come together to help others,” said Deedra Moe, ExxonMobil Guyana’s Senior Director, Public and Government Affairs. “We are proud to support this tremendous effort.”

With Guyana set to become a major oil producer in the region, efforts have been underway to enhance emergency response mechanisms and build the capacity of key agencies across the country.

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