For those of you who live in or around Torrevieja, I expect you have often driven along the old Alicante Road from the centre of town towards the multi-coloured obelisk.
While you're working out which lane you should be in and wondering what all the other cars are going to do, you may not have noticed that to your left, after the big toy shop, there is a white building which belongs to the Red Cross, or in Spanish, La Cruz Roja. Well, I must admit I had never noticed it, but after having it described to me on the phone I battled up to the obelisk, round the roundabout, down the slip road on the other side, and parked comfortably in front of the building, ready for my early morning apppointment. Inside I found Lara Garcia who is a social worker and one of the two full-time workers at the Cruz Roja Torrevieja. Before starting her day's work, Lara carefully outlined to me all the activities that the Cruz Roja undertake in Torrevieja. She started by telling me that the largest group of people that Red Cross Torrevieja work with are foreigners, mostly from Eastern Europe and South America, and that about 100 to 150 new people are helped by them every month.
The main body of their work comes under the heading of "intervención social" that is social work, and a major part of this is the department of "Psychological attention for immigrants". At the moment this department is running free Spanish courses for foreigners, both beginners and advanced, which are being taught by five volunteer teachers. The same department is about to initiate a series of workshops aimed at immigrant women on the subject of self esteem, relaxation and conflict-solving. This course is being taught by a psychologist who also works as a volunteer for the Red Cross and is available to support people who are going through difficult personal situations.
As well as having volunteer psychologists and teachers, the Red Cross also receives the free services of a lawyer who comes once every two weeks. Again the service is aimed at the most vulnerable groups in society and gives information about how to go about regularising work and residence permits. As so many people come with no idea about how things work in Spain, the Red Cross are now holding a series of talks to give them general information about work permits, the social security system and other aspects of bureaucracy.
The Red Cross receives a lot of support from Torrevieja Town Hall, and from time to time cultural trips are organised jointly. These usually consists of visits to natural parks in Torrevieja such as the salt lakes of La Mata. The idea is that if people become more aware of their natural surroundings, and at the same time enjoy a social activity together, it will help them to adapt and integrate better into local life.
The Red Cross Torrevieja also run food campaigns aimed at people with low incomes, and those in need of support because of lack of work or other difficult situations. The food, which consists of basic items like rice, pasta, biscuits, milk and cereals, is provided by the European Union via various official programmes. In Torrevieja there are ten volunteers involved in receiving and distributing these supplies.
The elderly and disabled
The "Teleasistencia" scheme is set up for people who live alone or are immobile. It consists of an alarm which is connected to the telephone line. The alarm is linked to a central system based in Alicante, but when it rings prompt action is taken locally. There are a number of English people who have these alarms, which can be arranged via the Town Hall or the Red Cross, who assess each case and recommend those who should be provided free of charge. The Red Cross have volunteers who go round to people's homes every month to ensure the alarms are working. The Red Cross also runs a home visiting programme for the elderly. Teams of volunteers are co-ordinated centrally and work in different areas of the town. They visit people in their homes and also take them out on shopping or other trips.
During the summer months the Red Cross organise "gymnastics on the beach" and "adapted bathing". These schemes are run from Monday to Friday on the El Cura beach in Torrevieja between 9 and 10 in the morning. Anyone wishing to participate in this activity they should call at the Red Cross centre first to sign up.
The Red Cross also lends out orthopaedic equipment. They have a stock of ten wheelchairs, and six pairs of crutches. The equipment is donated and there is no charge for their use, but a small deposit is required. This area of work is quite difficult to keep going because of the repair work needed and there is a lot of pressure on the service, especially in the summer.
A new section of Cruz Roja Torrevieja has just got started called "Cruz Roja Juventud" (Red Cross Youth). This is open to anyone aged between 14 and 30, although in Torrevieja the age group is mainly from 16 to 25. At the moment this group is organising a Christmas toy campaign. Unwanted toys are being collected which must be in good condition, and must not be war toys. If you have toys to donate you can take them directly to the Red Cross or to the Town hall Social Services. The Red Cross Youth group will sort through the toys, repair them and gift wrap them to give out to needy children on the Day of the Three Kings. This youth group is being trained up by a local assembly coordinator who is running courses in Torrevieja and Alicante on subjects like ecology and health. Some of the Red Cross Youth are young people who, during the three months of summer, work for the Red Cross as beach life-guards and first-aid workers.
As well as occasional donations, the Red Cross relies on members who pay an annual membership fee. In order to become a member you can go along to the Red Cross building in the mornings to find out all you need to know. The Red Cross also run a Christmas lottery and a special "Gold Bar" lottery. In addition they receive a lot of help from the Torrevieja Town Hall both in terms of funding, organisation and publicity and with premises to run some of their meetings. However, apart from some special workshops, the rest of Red Cross activities are run on their own premises.
The Red Cross are always looking for volunteers to help on their many programmes. A large number of their present volunteers are foreigners who participated in this kind of work in their own country and now wish to carry on doing it here, and many are retired people who wish to put something of their experience back into the community. The volunteers do a fantastic job and new people are more than welcome. If there were more English speaking volunteers it would greatly help them to widen the spectrum of their work. Sometimes, in such a multi-lingual area as Torrevieja, communication can be a major problem. Some people might be reluctant to commit themselves to doing too much, but if a lot of people donated just one hour of their time a week it would be the equivalent of having one full-time volunteer and that would be of enormous help.
As our interview came to an end the room next door filled up with a group of volunteers waiting to work on the food distribution programme. We had run over into the start of Lara's working day, so I quickly took my leave and went on my way. As I pulled my car back into the busy lanes of traffic I reflected on what I had learned and how it might be relevant to the English speaking readers of my article. The fact is that there are language barriers to be overcome all around us, but what better way to cross them than by volunteering for just one hour a week to the Red Cross? It is a way for both young and older people to do something of practical help for some of the other groups who make up the diverse community of Torrevieja.
For general information, to donate to the Red Cross or to become a member, the office is open on weekdays from 9.30 to 1 p.m. For information on specific programmes: Teleasistence: Monday, Wednesday or Thursday. Legal assistance: Tuesday. General orientation: Wednesday. Food distribution: Thursday and Friday. Phone number: 966 704 848
This article is published courtesy of CB Friday in association with thinkspain.com