Penticton resident and nurse with the international Red Cross Dawn Anderson is one of 36 people in the world to receive the highest honour a nurse can get.
Shortly after returning home from Gaza, and before that assisting with relief efforts after the Nepal earthquakes, Anderson was the recipient of the Florence Nightingale Medal in Vancouver.
“It’s an international award so I was a bit shocked,” Anderson said.
It’s not easy to shock Anderson considering she works with the International Committee of the Red Cross as well as the Red Cross international organization the IFRC (International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies) providing her skills and knowledge mostly in combat zones including Kandahar, Central Africa and Gaza, but has provided disaster relief in Nepal, the Philippines and Haiti as well.
“It’s very humbling and all sorts of things because I work with the most amazing people and I know so many nurses who are international nurses who do humanitarian aid. So to be nominated and picked for it is very nice,” Anderson said.
She arrived in Penticton on Sunday after helping out with training efforts in Gaza. Before that she was on the ground during the 7.3 magnitude earthquake in Nepal. She said the situation is improving slightly after the two major earthquakes rocked the country, but the people there still have to live with the long-term effects.
“There’s still a lot of aftershock. I think it’s really rough in Nepal. They’ve forbidden any tourists from hiking and stuff like that, so it’s not just the natural structural stuff, but also for economics, things are just really bad,” Anderson said. “These people live off tourism and now there isn’t any.”
Anderson said the award stems from her work in Gaza helping the International Committee of the Red Cross staff, especially those with children, cope with the constant bombing and psychological issues that come as a result of working in a war zone.
“There was a lot of times I wasn’t allowed to go work in the hospital because it was being bombed. So we were stuck in the office. It was just a matter of sitting down and talking with the local staff that was working there and asking them what their biggest concerns were,” Anderson said.
She said many of the staff’s children were having a hard time coping with the stress.
“Their kids couldn’t sleep. They were crying and up and couldn’t go to the bathroom,” Anderson said. “It was a matter of getting some programs running for them to help them teach their kids what they could do.”
This lead to psychological counselling and teaching parents to get their kids to paint, draw, write, read or any productive activity that would help them work through the trauma.
The dangerous areas she works are a far cry from coming home to the Okanagan, a challenge in itself for Anderson.
“It’s very two-sided,” she said. “It’s the realization that you’re back home, you’re perfectly safe, but yet you miss certain things. I lived and worked with people 24 hours a day so I’m used to having everybody around and the feeling that you’re doing something. So when I come home and I relax and it’s all quiet, I still talk to my family and see people, but it’s not to the same extent of 24 hours a day.
“It can be really difficult. They call it reverse culture shock when you come home, but it’s an interesting phenomenon,” she continued.
The adjustments are worth it for her though, as Anderson has known what she wanted to do her whole life.
“I have a love for doing it. I knew when I was young that when I grew up I was going to go and travel the world and see different places and nursing was one of the best ways to be able to do that. To be able to have a job you love and travel, not that everywhere I go is really a tourist site, but it’s still getting to be one-on-one with the culture and working with local people.”
“Seeing people at their most vulnerable, it makes you feel good if you can help them at all to be there and see them through that.”
The Florence Nightingale Medal is the highest international distinction a nurse can achieve awarded to those nurses who show exceptional courage and devotion to the wounded, sick, disabled or to civilian victims of a conflict disaster. The award also acknowledges exemplary services or a creative and pioneering spirit in the areas of public health or nursing education.