2 May 2015

Answering Nepal's call for help

9:39 am on 2 May 2015

On Wednesday morning, Donna Collins received a call asking her to pack her bags for earthquake-devastated Kathmandu. She flew out last night, heading first to Guangzhou on her way to Nepal's capital.

Volunteer nurse Donna Collins prepares her gear to head to Kathmandu.

Volunteer nurse Donna Collins prepares her gear to head to Kathmandu. Photo: RNZ / Michael Cropp

As a registered nurse and midwife, she will be joining with other International Federation of the Red Cross volunteers from around the world.

Staff in the Red Cross office say the milk is a great coffee sweetener.

Supplies for Nepal - in tube form Photo: RNZ / Michael Cropp

The mother of four from Whangarei - a son and three daughters, one of which is fostered - says she is grateful to go: "This is something I've trained for, and I've dreamt of doing, and I'm really proud of doing it."

"I'm very passionate about helping others, and so these Red Cross deployments just excite me."

From New Zealand, the Red Cross has already sent three communications infrastructure specialists to help re-establish the networks necessary to co-ordinate relief, and, later, the country's rebuild.

The teams aim to be self-sufficient. Ms Collins has packed about a month's worth of supplies, along with a sleeping bag, tent and New Zealand Red Cross jacket.

She's also packed a huge amount of food: packets of long-life food - creamy tomato and basil soup, muesli, and tortilla mixes - and tubes of strawberry jam, sweetened condensed milk and yeast extract, which look more like pharmeceutical products than food.

Staff in the Red Cross office say a generous teaspoon of the condensed milk is a great addition to a cup of coffee.

Team 'prepared for whatever happens'

In Nepal, Ms Collins is going to be part of a regional disaster response health team, starting from Kathmandu and then going out to the villages. Her roles will vary from hands-on health work, to aid distribution, communicating needs back to central base, and everything in-between.

"With the Red Cross, you're very much a jack-of-all-trades," she says. "You're there to assess the needs, but also to lend a hand if needed."

New Zealand Red Cross nurse Donna Collins in Sierra Leone wearing full personal protection equipment.

Donna Collins in Sierra Leone Photo: supplied

Ms Collins was one of the first nurses to go to Sierra Leone following the Ebola crisis. She worked alongside Sharon Mackie, who expects to head to Nepal in a fortnight. In Red Cross circles, the nursing duo are now known as "Shonna".

The work the team will do involves long hours. In Sierra Leone, she worked a minimum of 14 hours almost every day.

"I'm under no illusions that there'll be any time off. I think it'll be working, eating, sleeping and working."

"Everything is always evolving, after any emergency in any disaster. It's just about being prepared for whatever happens. Hopefully in the four to five weeks that I'm there, there should be a change: hopefully for the better."

Throughout the month she intends to spend in Nepal, she will try make contact back home, but that can be hard, and she has warned her kids that "no news is good news".

Ms Collins is urging people to make cash donations to the Red Cross to help provide emergency shelter, healthcare needs, to restore family connections, and later, dignified burials.

She is travelling with Jacqui Dixon, a Hamilton-based aid worker, who will be looking after staff security and safety for the next month.

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