My name is Sethamiso Moritshane. I am a disaster management officer at the Botswana Red Cross Society in southern Africa. In mid-2015, I travelled from Botswana to Rwanda to support the Rwandan Red Cross’ response to an influx of refugees fleeing pre-election violence in neighbouring Burundi. I was deployed as a member of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ (IFRC) Regional Disaster Response Team (RDRT), a support system that aims to promote regional capacities in disaster management. This is my story.

My first experience with Regional Disaster Response Teams (RDRT) was at a training that I helped organize in Botswana when I was working in disaster management for the National Society. Later, from 2008 to 2013, I was deployed to Zimbabwe during a cholera emergency, South Africa following severe flooding in Limpopo province, and Malawi to work on first aid provisions during elections.

Most recently, in June 2015, I was deployed as an RDRT to Rwanda to assist with an IFRC Emergency Appeal to support refugees fleeing election violence in Burundi. In Rwanda, the Red Cross led the international response in beneficiary registration, social mobilization, hygiene promotion, psychosocial support, and reuniting separated families. I was very impressed with the Red Cross volunteers in Rwanda who took a lot on themselves to assist the new arrivals at all times of the day or night.

It touched me to see the young ones coming alone and those who were very sick, especially as I come from a country like Botswana that has not seen such tension or violence. But I realized that these people needed extra help. I worked with the local disaster coordinator to prioritize people according to their vulnerability. Children, breast-feeding mothers, and the elderly needed first priority and special assistance.

I also helped facilitate the shift of focus of the Red Cross response from registration centres to entry points. People arriving at the border had walked for four days and were met with no facilities and a long wait before they could be transported to be registered. My efforts helped ensure that there were temporary toilets, tents, water, and some food provided by the Red Cross at these border crossings.

One of the things that I draw from my experience in Rwanda is improved skills in coordinating with different international agencies. Briefing up to 50 international agencies at cluster meetings, on what the Red Cross was doing and what the challenges were, was a new and valuable experience for me.

I think one of the benefits that I have as an RDRT is that I say to the National Society I am working with, “I am part of a National Society. I am part of you. Treat me just like an officer here in the Red Cross. I told the Secretary General in Rwanda, you supervise me and use me like anyone from your National Society.”