Sami ñaraki, “We walk together”

by Maycol Alonso Morales Pita | Oct 4, 2023 | Leadership Voices

A Story of Transformation at Costa Rican Red Cross

Like the other National Societies, Costa Rican Red Cross had to adapt and transform during the COVID-19 pandemic. Maycol Alonso Morales Pita, National Executive from Costa Rican Red Cross, reflects on how ‘human talent’, the digital transformation, and mental health of staff and volunteers became key themes for the National Society’s capacity for innovation and resilience.

Maycol Alonso Morales Pita is a member of the National Council (National Board of Directors) of the Costa Rican Red Cross. Professional in Sociology, he has been a volunteer of the Costa Rican Red Cross since 2008, in leadership positions at local and regional levels. Currently, he is the Coordinator of the Governance and Regional Development Commission, leading the coordination of the National Council with these structures of the National Society.

Who are you, Costa Rica Red Cross?

The Costa Rican Red Cross was created on April 4, 1885, making it 138 years old. Today, it currently counts 4,637 volunteers and 1,280 employees, totaling 5,197 Red Cross members.

The National Society’s mission is to save lives, prevent and alleviate human suffering in all circumstances through humanitarian and voluntary work that contributes to a resilient, inclusive and prepared society. 

Our organisation’s vision is to be resilient and innovative, and to project ourselves nationally and internationally.  

Our actions are based on three strategic axes:

  1. A Humanitarian Red Cross: Saving lives and supporting recovery after disasters and crises to build safe and resilient environments through risk management, with a particular attention to the most vulnerable populations, sectors and communities.
  2. An Inclusive Red Cross: Promoting social inclusion and a culture of non-violence and peace through cross-sectoral and voluntary action in all regions with respect for the human rights of all people.

An Open and Transparent Red Cross: Contributing to an open and transparent governance model with strategies aimed at favouring internal and external development, the preservation of Costa Rican Red Cross’ strategic partnerships to achieve its goals and the sustainability of its operations.

©Costa Rica Red Cross

Main areas of work

Our main humanitarian areas of work include:

  • Pre-hospital care: An important characteristic of our National Society is our ambulance service, which began on May 8, 1919, marking over 100 years of existence in the country.
  • Disaster response;
  • Search and rescue: we have K-Sar, aquatic, mountain and urban rescue units;
  • Re-establishment of Family Contacts;
  • Risk Reduction;
  • Water and Sanitation;
  • Community Health;
  • Psychological Support;
  • Promoting a Culture of Peace;
  • Climate Change Action;
  • Community Resilience;
  • Migration;
  • Temporary Shelters;
  • Community Capacity Building;
  • Humanitarian Diplomacy;
  • Children and Youth aged 8-30; 
  • International Humanitarian Law

The National Society operates more than 130 branches, distributed in all corners of the country, dedicated to bringing relief to the most vulnerable people.

Costa Rican Red Cross in the face of COVID-19

©Costa Rica Red Cross

On March 6, 2020, the Costa Rican Ministry of Health declared the first case of COVID-19. With this declaration, the robust national health system was put to test, representing a new challenge for the Costa Rican Red Cross.

In July 2020, the National Society reported to the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent ( IFRC):

The COVID-19 pandemic has represented more than just a health emergency; in Costa Rica, the pandemic has exacerbated social, economic and political crises. 

The country is in a race against the spread of the disease, screening and treating patients, contact tracing, limiting travels, conducting pre-emptive isolation campaigns for citizens and limiting on-site activity in educational establishments; businesses are intermittently closed depending on the local alert phase in place. Unemployment is rising daily in the country, and tourism, one of the main sources of foreign exchange, is severely impacted. In addition, COVID-19  cause great concern and emotional distress in the population due to the uncertainty generated by the rapid spread of this virus, and high levels of stress and anxiety are generated in the population due to exposure to false information“.

As described in the report, the country faced complex scenarios, requiring an inter-institutional and intersectoral approach that involved civil society in every planned containment strategy.

24/7 Pre-Hospital Care services

One of the main activities of Costa Rican Red Cross is providing 24/7 pre-hospital care services throughout the country. It plays a crucial role in emergency care through the 911 National Emergency System. 

As the main provider of pre-hospital care in the country, COVID-19 generated uncertainty, fear and concern among the Cruzrojista staff and raised questions about the sustainability of the organisation’s services.

Additionally, the Costa Rican state took extreme measures, such as closing land and air borders, isolating the country, and impacting economic sectors through the closure of businesses and mass activities.

During this time, the Costa Rican Red Cros focused, in close coordination with the government, its efforts on contributing to epidemic control, risk communication, hygiene promotion, providing of mental health and psychosocial support services, ambulance services, maintenance of essential health services, and livelihood support..

Our COVID-19 activities

©Costa Rica Red Cross

During the pandemic, the Costa Rican Red Cross implemented various actions, including: 

  • Transfer of 161,416 COVID-19 patients from March 2020 to June 2023, which required generating staff safety procedures for the proper handling of patients and protecting the Costa Rican Red Cross.
  • Providing key safety equipment such as gowns, masks, safety goggles and gloves were provided to guarantee the pre-hospital care service.
  • Strengthening staff capacities through webinars, talks, workshops and virtual accompaniment.
  • Building virtual training processes for essential courses, such as first aid, using a hybrid methodology when controlled openings were available.
  • Inter-institutional coordination strategies were generated, activating municipal emergency committees, which are the bodies of the country’s national risk management and emergency response system, and from which the state generated local actions to combat COVID-19.
  • Providing support in vaccination campaigns by deploying personnel in communities, to motivate and inform the population.
  • Adjusting statutes and internal regulations to adapt to the virtual world as a day-to-day tool.
  • Providing mental health care and support to 475 Red Cross staff and volunteers in person and/or by tele-assistance, nationwide, and also created tools for staff, focusing on Community Psychosocial Support and Psychological First Aid, Strategies for staff care, work anxiety, self-care, physical and mental health promotion.
  • The psychology team of the National Society collaborated with the International Federation and National Societies in building mental health and psychosocial support strategies for both Red Cross staff and volunteers and migrants.
  • Using social media, particularly Facebook, Instagram, and Tiktok to generate informative content for civil society.  
  • The branches came up with innovative ideas that brought them closer to the digitalisation of their daily actions, such as, for example, the registration of staff health data on tablets or mobile phones, the monitoring of COVID-19 patients, the digital control of volunteer service hours.
  • Providing support actions for essential facilities such as temporary care centres for migrants, and schools by distributing water tanks, hygiene kits, food kits, cleaning kits, and strengthening contact services between family members in migrant centres.
  • Staff and volunteers, riding ambulances and sometimes just walking, were in charge of giving out the COVID-19 prevention messages generated by the national health system.

Key Lessons

©Costa Rica Red Cross

The Costa Rican Red Cross has learned valuable lessons from the pandemics:

  • We recognise human talent within the National Society, which is of great technical and professional quality, with proven willingness and courage to be present in difficult times.
  • We identify digital transformation of the National Society as a significant challenge, especially regarding internet access in  peripheral areas and digital literacy for virtual tools.
  • The mental health of Red Cross staff and volunteers is a cornerstone for continuing to save lives, and the National Society is working to strengthen it.
  • Red Cross staff and volunteers have great creativity and resilience in the face of adversity, champions in the search for solutions adapted to their community contexts.
  • The most valuable resource is human talent, which is why the National Board of Directors has placed it as the main axis of its actions to strengthen the capacities of our National Society.

I would like to extend my gratitude to all the Costa Rican Red Cross members for their mystique and commitment, talent and dedication during such complex times. They have been present and smiling despite the difficulties of the situation. Their efforts and sacrifices have saved lives and made a significant impact on the country. 

To them, thank you very much.

Bibliographical references

  • Costa Rican Red Cross. GAPS Report 2023.
  • Costa Rican Red Cross. RAPA administrative information.
  • Costa Rican Red Cross. Bimodal RAPA strategy 2021.
  • Costa Rican Red Cross. DINAFOP Protocol for the Reactivation of Training in the context of the National Emergency Covid 19 update April 2021.
  • Costa Rican Red Cross. DIANGER Incident statistics report COVID-19, 2023.
  • Costa Rican Red Cross. Institutional Planning. PED 2021-2030.
  • Costa Rican Red Cross. Institutional Planning. Infographic PED 2021-2030.
  • Costa Rican Red Cross. Email consultation to DINAVOL 2023.
  • Costa Rican Red Cross. Consultation by e-mail to Talento Humano 20
  • IFRC. Status Update #14 / Americas COVID-19 – 6 months operation 2020.


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