Like so many things we take for granted, the Red Cross is usually there when we need it; and although most of us spend our time thinking about that fantastic job we would like to have, there are others who give up a fantastic job in order to do something for others. Such a person is Rafael Prosper, Valencia Community co-ordinator of the Red Cross in the province of Valencia.
After graduating in Economics from Valencia University, Rafael started working for a multinational manufacturer of toys called Play By Play, and looked set for a successful and well paid future; nevertheless, at the turn of the century he turned his back on personal profit and took over the restructuring of the administration of one of Valencia’s best known charities, the ‘Casa de Caridad’, and after four years there, moved across the city in 2004 to begin working for the Red Cross.
The Red Cross was founded in 1863 in Geneva, Switzerland by Henry Dunant after witnessing the Battle of Solferino, an engagement in the Austro-Sardinian War, in which in a single day, about 40,000 soldiers on both sides died or were left wounded on the battlefield.
Today almost 100 million volunteers help co-ordinate the work of the Red Cross and Red Crescent worldwide, and in Valencia province the volunteers are co-ordinated by a staff of 160 in winter, which doubles in summertime when the Red Cross takes over the safety of around fifteen Valencian beaches.
These paid workers are supported by over 42,000 provincial members and over 5,000 volunteers.
The breadth of their work is overwhelming, or would be if economists like Rafael didn’t spend so much time ensuring that their limited resources are well used. With a budget of just over 10 million euros (2007) they provide training and shelter (4 flats) for immigrants and vulnerable collectives such as threatened women, as well as training programmes to enable immigrants to find work or set up their own businesses (recent successes include a hairdresser, chocolate shop, catering business and candle shop). Furthermore they provide companions for OAPs, including a meals on wheels service, distributing methadone for drug addicts and organising community service for delinquent minors in collaboration with the courts.
Two projects of which Rafael is justly proud are a school for children who suffer from cerebral palsy and a clinic (the only one of its kind in Spain) that specialises in providing dental treatment for sufferers from cerebral palsy.
Apart from all of that they have to train their own volunteers to save lives on the beaches and attend the injured or ill at football matches, concerts, festivals and fairs.
One of their goals is to turn victims into protagonists, and with this in mind they have employed 14 people under a programme known as SIAC in the Gandia area. People who were themselves victims of various social problems have been trained to become community workers, helping OAPs, drug takers or prostitutes, or enacting prevention programmes by, for example, speaking to people at discotheques about the risks of drinking and driving, drugs or unsafe sex.
Like all NGOs, the Red Cross always notices economic crises, and witnesses a threefold increase in the demand for its services, and a widening of the customer profile to collectives who have never previously been in a situation where they have needed help.
Despite mainly dealing with problems close to home, the Red Cross of Valencia maintains its programme of international collaboration. Recent projects have seen the co-operative arm of Valencian goodwill extending far afield to countries such as Burkina Faso, Paraguay, Western Africa and the Congo.
In Burkina Faso they are involved in projects to improve literacy and develop fresh water facilities and mills, and in Paraguay they are helping 30 families to become financially independent by exploiting a fish farm.
In Western Africa their role is more educational and designed to help eliminate child slavery, whereas in the Congo their various activities include the provision of micro-credits.
Of course, some people prefer to wake up in the morning and rush off to work in their power suits while arguing with their accountants about whether to buy or sell on the Stock Exchange this week; but while others may make a fortune, it is the world’s good fortune that there are still people, including the 100 million Red Cross collaborators, who want to make a difference in the world and not only in their own pockets.