Kamal A. Gunawardana recounts the moment he decided to become a Red Cross volunteer in the Philippine Red Cross.

It all started with a chance encounter with a man in a Red Cross uniform.

Before moving to the Philippines in 2000 after marrying my beautiful wife, a pharmacist, I was working in the telecommunication industry back in my homeland in Sri Lanka. My wife decided to open up a small pharmacy in front of our house and one morning, while I was looking after the store, drinking tea, I saw a man walk by the store window, wearing the distinct red uniform of the Red Cross emergency response unit.

I was a Red Cross volunteer almost all my young life back in Sri Lanka. As a member of the Red Cross Youth, we would often support our national society in Red Cross events.

He instantly made me curious. Who is he? What does he do? After seeing him walk by for three consecutive days, I mustered up the courage and called out to him. We started to talk and I found out that he works for the Philippine Red Cross as a First Aid instructor.

When I told him that I was a former Red Cross Youth member in Sri Lanka, he invited me to the Philippine Red Cross to undergo basic volunteer orientation. I decided to attend first aid training courses as well.

Being a first aid responder opened my mind to a new world of patient care. It made me realize how short our lives are and how our knowledge and actions determine whether someone lives or dies.

After going through a series of special trainings on First Aid, I was welcomed as one of the first aid instructors and Emergency Response Unit technicians. I was ready to touch the lives of those in need. Just two days after I started, we were deployed along with the ambulance service to respond to a structure demolition exercise. We helped attend to the wounded, and my First Aid skills were put to the test.

Being surrounded by experienced staff, responders and instructors who were very supportive allowed me to understand the concept of responding to emergencies and gave me enough time to learn more about the Red Cross and its operational phases and policies.

Every day is a new learning experience. Filling my bucket with knowledge and experience allowed me to be who I am now as an ERU rescuer and technician. I also learned how to manage responding to day-to-day emergencies with Philippine Red Cross’s Disaster Management services.

Working for the Red Cross as a volunteer has been one of the most fulfilling things in my life. The Red Cross is my second family, and volunteering for them has made me understand myself better and realise that I can be useful to the people, in times of calamities in emergency response.