Genuine sense of duty and responsibility
The Cayman Islands Red Cross (CIRC) has a reputation within the Caribbean region for being small but mighty. The CIRC, which is a Branch of the British Red Cross, is made up of seven members of staff and nearly 250 volunteers. The CIRC is a force to be reckoned with due to the commitment and dedication of its people, all of which is made possible by the leadership of Branch Director Jondo Obi.
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When Jondo began her work in 2003 it was a tiny branch with two full time staff members, two part time staff members and about thirty volunteers. “It was a very different branch,” she recalls. “It was structured in such a way that half of the staff was salaried, and half of the staff was on a commission type contract. It was clear that this set up was just not working well. If we wanted the Branch to grow this couldn’t remain,” she adds.

Jondo was new to the island, and as a young mother of two small children working on getting situated, juggling the demands of motherhood and work, and figuring out how to get the CIRC to better serve the community she very quickly had her hands full. It soon became clear that what she and the other members of the staff had inherited was an organization that had lost relevance in the community and that had to confront the mistakes of the past. “We started trying to engage more people and recruit more volunteers to the organization,” recalls Deputy Director Carolina Ferreira, “and it became very clear very quickly that we had a credibility problem. We were hearing stories about how volunteers were being turned away and told their services were not needed. This was hugely problematic given that as a Movement our greatest strength is our volunteers. We had to act, and fast, and part of that was essentially apologizing for what had happened even though we weren’t involved. But that is what it took - taking that level of ownership and accountability as a starting point for working towards the kind of organization we wanted to build.”

The work to reconnect with the community was beginning to build momentum when, in September 2004, Category 5 Hurricane Ivan tore through the Cayman Islands, and within three long days, had damaged over 85 percent of Grand Cayman. Infrastructure was ruined, shipments of food and supplies were stalled, and thousands of families were left completely vulnerable.

Jondo knew that the best thing for her kids would be to get the country back on its feet as soon as possible

– Jondo Obi, Cayman Islands

“No one was expecting that the storm would be as bad as it was,” recalls Carolina. “Jondo's kids were still really small, so she and her husband figured it would be better for them to stay at home while she was stationed at the Red Cross shelter. We were able to stay in touch via text message for a good deal of the storm, but at one point the communications stopped. We were stuck in the shelter from Saturday morning until Monday afternoon, and when we walked out of that door we couldn't even recognize where we were anymore.”

At the height of the storm Jondo’s husband had to evacuate with the two boys to a neighbor's house as the roof from their house gave way to the wind. “As soon as we got out of the shelter, we went to her house. She checked on her family, saw the damage, hugged her kids and then turned right around to get back to HQ,” Carolina remembers. “It wasn’t until 2012, when I became a parent, that the full gravity of what she had done hit me. I can now only begin to imagine how hard it must have been for her, to be separated from her family, to not know and then to have to get back to work so soon after such a traumatic experience. But she never let on, and not because of some misguided belief to be stoic and not show emotion, but because of a genuine sense of duty and responsibility that understood that the best thing for her kids would be to get the country back on its feet as soon as possible,” she adds.

She ushered the CIRC into a new chapter

– Jondo Obi, Cayman Islands

Hurricane Ivan was a major turning point for the organization, and Jondo capitalized on the renewed credibility that her team would earn to usher the CIRC into a new chapter.

Jondo began to advocate for more involvement from the Overseas Branches as a whole and the CIRC in particular in regional meetings and training opportunities. She brought the Ideals in Action training course to Cayman to help volunteers better understand the Movement and to really bring the work and branch practices and policies back to the Seven Fundamental Principles. This led to initiatives like the Red Cross Volunteer Training and Pathway Program, as well as having Cayman become the launch site of a controversial regional condom usage campaign which was unheard of in the Caribbean at the time.

Jondo herself continued to develop her leadership style which allowed for her team to take ownership of the organization’s growth by constantly encouraging them to push the envelope when it came to serve the most vulnerable effectively. It is the ability to identify and foster other’s strengths while working to create a harmonious, happy and familial work environment that has really made the CIRC stand apart.

“I am grateful, and blessed, to call a piece of paradise like Cayman home,” Jondo begins. “What we have here is a privilege, so to play a small part in helping to ensure that we help to preserve it, that we work on empowering people, on making it better or increasing the resilience… that's the least anyone could do. That I get to do it as part of a Movement like the Red Cross, that’s just the cherry on top.”

Jondo Obi

Cayman Islands, 2003

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Between 1990 and 2017, women made up only 2 per cent of mediators, 8 per cent of negotiators and 5 per cent of witnesses and signatories to global peace processes.

– UN Women

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