Gran honoured for warzone work

By Heather McCracken

Aid worker wins Florence Nightingale Medal and says visits to world's trouble spots leave her mother anxious.

Nurse Janet Askew, centre, who has been honoured for her aid work. Photo / Supplied
Nurse Janet Askew, centre, who has been honoured for her aid work. Photo / Supplied

A Gisborne grandmother awarded the highest international honour for nurses says she relishes her work in the world's war and disaster zones - but it does worry her mum.

Janet Askew has been granted the Florence Nightingale Medal by the International Committee of the Red Cross for her work on aid missions in Sudan, Indonesia and Iraq.

She said the medal was a "fantastic honour", and that the work had been a great professional and personal challenge.

Her aid work began in 2003 when, widowed and with two grown children, she began looking for a new challenge. "I had in my head to do humanitarian work."

Ms Askew's first overseas mission for Red Cross was to Juba in Southern Sudan in 2003. "The people in Southern Sudan had been at war for 20 years with the north, and everything was broken. Health, education, roads - everything was broken.

"People came from the rural areas into Juba for safety. They came carrying what they could and for many of them, that was their children."

The two-year deployment, working with displaced people in mudbrick health clinics, was the first of three missions to Sudan over the next 10 years.

The second, delivering services to rural villages in western Darfur, was the most dangerous, she said.

"We were out in areas where there were roaming militia, and I was involved in three armed hold-ups."

She also worked in Indonesia in 2005 after the Boxing Day tsunami - during which time the second Bali bombing and a devastating 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck.

Another assignment took her to Iraq in 2009 and 2010, where she said explosions at checkpoints could make travelling risky. "It was potentially dangerous but it's not something I worry about while working. I have a job to do and I do it."

Ms Askew said she tries to spend six months at home in Gisborne between each mission, and in her last break has been working for the Cancer Society.

She heads to Lebanon next month, where she will work with Syrian refugees.

She admits the dangerous locations worry her 87-year-old mother.

"I try to explain to her that what she sees on the news is the worst that the world can drag up on that day, and for the most part people are going about their daily business of living, and that's what I'm involved with; the living."

The 59-year-old mother of two and grandmother of one said she would continue aid work while she could.

New Zealand Red Cross secretary- general Andrew McKie said the medal recognised Ms Askew's outstanding commitment and devotion to duty.

"Janet has exemplified the personal qualities of courage and bravery many times during her career," he said.


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