Marshall Islands Red Cross Looks At Fast-Tracking Membership To International Federation

Local operation, officially established in 2013, seeks international recognition

By Giff Johnson 

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, April 21, 2017) – The first secretary general of the Marshall Islands Red Cross said Thursday he hopes to fast-track international membership of the fledgling Marshall Islands entity in the International Federation of the Red Cross.

While the Marshall Islands Red Cross was officially established here in 2013, it must meet a variety of organizational requirements before it is fully recognized by the international body.

Jack Niedenthal, who was hired as the organization’s first secretary general a month ago, said he was informed this process could take several years. But Niedenthal wants to get all the pieces in place by late this year when the International Federation of the Red Cross or IFRC holds its global assembly so it can fully join the international organization.

Niedenthal is the first secretary general hired by the Red Cross program in the Marshall Islands. He first came to the Marshall Islands in the early 1980s as a Peace Corps Volunteer, and later worked for several decades as the Bikini local government’s trust liaison until he left the post last year.

“My goal is to show them (the international body) how serious we are about getting this done this year,” he said. “One hundred and ninety nations are recognized by the International Federation of the Red Cross. We’re one of the last not recognized.”

This doesn’t mean the Marshall Islands Red Cross doesn’t get support from the IFRC. The local office is receiving funding, training opportunities and technical support from the IFRC. But opportunities for the Marshall Islands will expand greatly once formal recognition is complete, Niedenthal said. “It will allow us to expand the scope of our work,” he said. “The beauty of the Red Cross is that it is not only disaster-related. It is very broad, involving betterment of people’s lives.”

The approval process has much to do with having financial systems, employee manuals, policies and a National Governing Board in place. Staff and volunteers have established a functioning program since 2013 and his job is to work with everyone to take it to the next level, said Niedenthal.

The Red Cross is hosting its first general assembly on June 21, which is expected to ratify the organization’s constitution and elect a National Governing Board — important steps for international acceptance. The Red Cross is now overseen by an interim committee headed by Dr. Alexander Pinano, the major mover behind establishment of the Marshall Islands Red Cross organization.

Red Cross isn’t hiring lots of staff, but it is training dozens of volunteers to assist its program. “It’s an opportunity for young people to get involved in the community,” he said. “We can’t employ you, but we can make you employable.” He said Red Cross volunteers are working with government staff on outer island drought surveys in addition to ongoing first aid and other humanitarian work.

Once the hurdle of international recognition for the Marshall Islands Red Cross is cleared, Niedenthal said he’s keen to see Red Cross develop a first aid program for local schools, focused on students aged seven and up. “We’ll try to pilot it at one school, fine tune it, and then offer it to others,” he said. Such a program would support the Ministry of Health when it’s responding to outbreaks in schools, such as the present situation of Hepatitis A and mumps outbreaks.

During a recent visit to the Philippines, Niedenthal met with Red Cross officials there and came away impressed with their active youth programs that give a boost to overall readiness of the population to improve living conditions and respond to disasters. There is no reason why the Marshall Islands Red Cross cannot design its own youth-related programs, he said. “How often do you get to design a program from the ground up?” Niedenthal said, expressing his enthusiasm for the new post.

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