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With drought that can last several months, as well as cyclones to prepare for and respond to, Semi Mala is kept busy in his role as Logistics Officer at Samoa Red Cross. Semi works for the Savai’i branch, and whether he’s helping co-ordinate people and supplies for droughts or the recent Cyclone Amos that swept across the island, Semi loves his work.
The island of Savai’i was hit by drought twice last year. Samalaeulu, a small village with 500 households, was so badly affected that people needed to travel a whole day to collect water from another village. A nearby crop farm also caught fire as a result of the drought, which led to many households being evacuated. The farm was also a major source of income for many families, a source of income which was lost with the fire.
Despite the challenges that mother nature has thrown at Savai’i, the local Red Cross branch got stuck in to help the community. They started off providing twenty water tanks, distributing jerry cans, and trucking water into the village five times a week, for two months. Semi was responsible for organising vehicles, supplies, and for giving the truck driver a break when he needed it! Semi and other volunteers worked odd hours so they could work around the villager’s daytime activities, with one stint from 8am to 2am.
After the first few weeks, Red Cross trained the community in how to use a water pump, and the village was able to use their own truck to transport water. Instead of three volunteers and a driver being needed, it was now possible for one volunteer to support the community. This freed up the Red Cross truck and volunteers to help out in a longer term tank and latrine project. Disaster response and recovery are both core areas of Red Cross’ work – it’s as much about helping in the short term as it is helping find long term solutions for communities too.
It’s obvious that Semi is dedicated to his work with Red Cross: “I go home and feel sad about the things in the village and about their suffering of getting water and their suffering of bushfires. I feel sorry for them as most of the people have young children and babies and some have elderly. They were so very happy to have water.”
Semi says he learned how to love people who are suffering during the 2012 Cyclone Evan response. His manager said to him then that “if you don’t feel the way the people are feeling, you are not a human”. This sentiment has stayed with him, and is one that he’ll carry into his future work.