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As usual, going from 15 degrees in Christchurch to 32 degrees when the plane door opens is a shock. After explaining to the customs officer what is in the three large boxes of equipment I have with me, he tells me his daughter volunteers with Red Cross, and asks me to do my baby crying impression. I’m taken aback – small world – and obviously word has spread about some of the noises I make to lighten up the mood during training!
Before day one gets under way there is an opening ceremony, then some food and then the work starts, with a break of course for lunch and afternoon tea. Don’t get the wrong idea, these guys and gals are working hard, but it’s the Pacific man and you’ve got to eat. I love it.
It’s great to work again with people I have been working and training with for many years - they are my Samoan family. They are quick to take on new skills they have never been exposed to and use equipment they have never seen before.
We take a short break in the day to talk about the “after-effects” of my Christchurch earthquake experience and their tsunami and cyclone experiences. I’m using the skills I’ve learned from the Personal Support course we are doing at home. We take some time to think about our brothers and sisters in Syria. Then of course our whole worldwide organisation. There are a few tears, peaceful silence and some real hugs.
Over the next three days we cover many emergency scenarios, including cardiac arrests, falls from trees, chainsaw mishaps, motorbike accidents, an approaching tsunami and a back-breaking 150-metre stretcher carry.
Many hotel guests and staff stop to watch the action, with the staff in stitches (pardon the pun). It never ceases to amaze me how folks love to watch our training. What a great way to showcase Red Cross. One of the hotel staff (Sam) who has been assigned to us starts filming us with his cellphone. Next thing we know he is helping to get more equipment and even jumps in to help carry the stretcher, smiling from ear to ear. One new volunteer for Samoa Red Cross (tick).
Finally they finish the exercises, sweat pouring off all of them but HUGE smiles and high fives all the way around. It just blows me away how dedicated these people are. They always give it a go and find a way to make it work. Okay Rick?, they say. My reply, “no, more than okay guys”. We end the day with a fun game to learn vital signs. There’s lots of laughter and great vibes. To watch people use equipment so well after just seeing it for the first time warms my heart.
The last day we test their teamwork around mass casualties. We run them through a scenario where they have to deal with a cardiac arrest, an open fracture, an amputated hand, someone with teeth knocked out and having a seizure – all with very realistic makeup and theatre blood poured on them. Another super day, and yes, I get paid to do this.
After the debrief we have a closing ceremony. There are wonderful words from Tala Maualo the Secretary General of Samoa Red Cross, followed with lots of fantastic singing. The keynote speaker is Vaasiliifiti Moelagi Jackson. We came to call her “Mrs. Happy” (71 years young). She is a founding member of Samoa Red Cross and served when it was a branch of New Zealand Red Cross. Today, she still serves as a board member. During her talk it was obvious she is not in the Red Cross, but the Red Cross is in her. Many of us who work for Red Cross know what that means. She touched well on our seven principles, and shared with us her beliefs on how important it is to help others. She said if she is not happy about something, the first person she sees upset, she helps, and her problem goes away. It’s as simple as that.
Rick Eisenhart is teaching first aid in Samoa as part of the New Zealand Red Cross delegate programme. The programme is supported by funding from New Zealand Aid Programme through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The New Zealand Red Cross delegates programme has been running since 1960.