The Red Cross (Cruz Roja) Axarquía, based in Vélez-Málaga, has a new recruit: Richard Weale. Richard, 57, who lives with his partner Carole in Riogordo, has been with the charity since May this year and is currently the only English-speaking volunteer.
Richard says he joined the organisation after seeing a news item about the work that the NGO does in Malaga and beyond, helping refugees and other vulnerable people. “My partner and I said from the beginning that we wanted to do something meaningful when we moved to Spain,”Richard explains.
Having initially contacted the office in Malaga, he was put in touch with the Axarquía branch, where fellow volunteer, Silvia Rodríguez, explains that they were “unable to reach out to a large group of vulnerable people as they couldn’t communicate with each other”. So when Richard arrived they felt they were able to bridge a gap.
Silvia, who is responsible for overseeing social intervention programmes, explains that as a generation of retired English-speaking people who moved to Spain perhaps in their fifties and sixties, get older, they are becoming more vulnerable.
“Maybe they have suffered a bereavement and are lonely or live inland and can’t get to hospital appointments. Added to that they can’t speak the language and they need help,” she explains.
While the image in many people’s minds of the Red Cross is providing humanitarian aid in Africa or Syria, or perhaps closer to home with refugees arriving on the shores of the Mediterranean, the organisation also helps vulnerable people locally. For example last weekend across Malaga anyone going to an Eroski supermarket will have probably seen volunteers collecting items for school-aged children, such as pens, pencils and books.
Richard says that he “didn’t mind” what he did for the organisation, but after speaking to Silvia he saw how he could help foreigners who don’t speak Spanish.
“In the 14 years that we have been coming here we have always heard of cases of Brits who have been struggling with things like mortgages, particularly since the financial crisis hit Spain and now people are very worried about Brexit and the drop in the value of the pound,” he says.
The two volunteers explained that they are hoping to get more activities under way which simply provide opportunities for older people to get out and meet others. For example they have teamed up with APTA- the Axarquía’s tourism organisation - to give tours in English on Vélez-Málaga’s tourist train.
They are also looking for volunteers who can speak English and some Spanish to come forward. “We need people for a range of things from offering a transport and companion service for things like hospital appointments, to volunteers who can give presentations to English speakers,”explains Richard. He said that while some Spanish is useful, those interested “by no means have to be fluent”.
The first talk took place in June in Riogordo and another is planned for Torre del Mar on 19 September at 12.15pm at the La Vega restaurant near Mercadona. Richard and Silvia are speaking to other town halls and organisations in the Axarquía and hope to confirm more dates and venues for the autumn.
Richard is in the Cruz Roja Axarquía office on Mondays and Thursdays from 11am until 1pm in Mercovelez, Avenida Juan Carlos 1, Vélez-Málaga (opposite Almacenes Búfalo).
Information: www.cruzroja.es, email Richard: firstname.lastname@example.org, tel: 952 500 321 / 952 503 484.