Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Learning the ropes

RedR's training is the best in the humanitarian aid world. Nina Lovelace reports on what you can be taught.

When RedR started to train its members in the mid-eighties, the charity was still learning exactly what skills were actually needed in the field.

'To begin with the training was pretty technical, ' says RedR training manager Tim Hayward, himself an experienced relief worker. 'It was mainly about water supply, roads, and bridges.'

The courses were geared towards a crash university course in the main engineering subjects, combined with some handy do-it-yourself. Important, but surprisingly not essential.

'Engineers tend to think in terms of the best engineering solution, ' said Hayward, 'but that's not necessarily the type of thinking we were looking for.'

It became apparent that the best relief workers were the ones that had less tangible skills such as flexibility, speed and resourcefulness.

'Time is of the essence, so we need emergency thinking, ' says Hayward, who worked in Africa during the conflict between Rwanda and Zaire in the 1990s.

Since then, RedR has expanded its training to press this message home to members, together with teaching more specialist skills that they may not necessarily have from their home environment.

These include being aware of their own security. This becomes vital when working in the middle of a civil war, or when the help they are providing to a community is not always regarded favourably by neighbours - often the case when providing emergency aid to a country that has suffered ethnic cleansing, for example.

As a result, the training courses on offer are no longer simply technical but span a whole range of subjects. RedR has 23 courses in the UK and over 40 different courses available worldwide, with 3,000 training day places.

And although RedR does not demand that any courses are completed as a minimum to become a member, it does encourage people to attend the core course, 'The essentials of humanitarian process'.

This course outlines how RedR links into the work done by other organisations, such as the United Nations and non-governmental organisations like the Red Cross. It also outlines how these organisations work together, and how they are funded.

Hayward explains that courses are open to anyone across the world, not just British civil engineers.

'We have water, transport, telecom and mechanical and electrical engineers. We also have office managers, programme managers and security personnel. In fact we have everyone, except doctors and nurses, ' he adds.

Courses are open to all ages, even university students, as they provide more than a new skill for attendees. They often encourage younger course attendees to aspire to membership of the register when they reach the minimum age of 25.

Courses can also encourage people over the minimum age to apply for membership, or add to the skills and confidence of existing members - of which there are 1,000 worldwide.

Arup environmental geologist Ruth Harper went on her first course in April this year, and is now applying for full membership of RedR.

Harper attended a course introducing her to environmental health concerns in the field.

'I saw the course as an opportunity to talk to a few experienced disaster relief workers, ' says Harper, who was initially unsure if relief work was what she wanted to do.

The course lasted for three days at Anglia Water's Whitwell training centre in Leicestershire.

Initially, attendees looked at the importance of promoting hygiene to communities in underdeveloped countries.

'We did this via group theatre, ' says Harper. Attendees took turns to assume different personas, such as a child with no English language, while other attendees attempted to educate them using 'sign language'.

'I was a mosquito one day and a fly on another, ' says Harper.

Her acting debut as a fly helped to educate a 'child' that leaving rubbish in the streets attracted disease-carrying flies, that later landed on the child's food.

Harper also learnt how to assess water quality using a variety of low-tech instruments such as water testing kits.

'Anglia's training centre has a number of water sources such as a spring and borehole, ' says Harper, who tested each source using the different technologies.

'It was a good way of seeing the positive and negative sides of each system - for example, with water testing kits there is a danger of cross contamination.

Each time you use them you have to re-sterilise the tweezers.'

The final part of the course included carrying out an environmental survey of a hypothetical community of 100,000 refugees.

The survey outlined how to provide the refugees with basic sanitation.

'First of all we had to figure out what information we needed, and how to get it, ' says Harper.

Typical information needed was what water supply was available in the area, and how many people could use it.

'Then once we had it, we needed to prioritise an environmental health programme, ' continues Harper.

This involved highlighting which needs were the most urgent and carrying out presentations to attendees pretending to be Government officials in order to get funds.

'Finally, we focused on one aim - how to decrease the incidence of diarrhoea in under five's in the refugee camp, ' she says.

'We came up with a plan, but then we had to present it to the community.'

This involved using the communication skills picked up earlier from the theatre group.

'I think the course balanced the theory and the practical, ' says Harper, 'I can honestly say it was one of the best courses I have ever attended.'

The course, plus the opportunity to chat to other RedR members, has cemented Harper's interest in disaster relief. She is due to go on another course this month.

In the future, RedR is hoping to carry out more training courses in areas that better resemble the countries its members are sent to, such as Kenya and Uganda.

Hayward also hopes to attract more local engineers into attending training courses, so they can provide emergency aid in their own countries or at least their own continent.

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Please note comments made online may also be published in the print edition of New Civil Engineer. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.