Luisa Vaasi Palu first joined Red Cross over six years ago, after watching volunteers participating in emergency response training and deciding she wanted to join them.

These days, Luisa heads the Red Cross training and operations in Ha’apai: a group of islands 45 minutes flight from Tonga’s capital, Nuku’alofa.

Luisa says what is best about her role is that it is all about helping people. She likes “being busy and making things happen” which is just as well, as Luisa’s time with Red Cross has been extremely eventful so far.

In 2014, Tropical Cyclone Ian destroyed the Red Cross office in Ha’apai, forcing the team to coordinate the cyclone response effort from under tarpaulins.

New Zealand Red Cross has provided furniture for the new office which opened last year, and has also provided relief items for the five stores in the Ha’apai islands. Having relief stock on hand will make it easier to respond to future crises.

Last week a major storm was predicted to hit the islands, so Red Cross emergency response volunteers distributed tarpaulins and worked to protect several homes that had not yet been fully repaired after damage from Tropical Cyclone Ian. Luisa says she was proud that the volunteers used their shelter training to make a difference.

First aid is also a key component of emergency response training in Ha’apai. Luisa and her team provide first aid training for Red Cross volunteers, as well as companies and government offices.

Recently, there was a boating disaster off the coast of the Ha’apai islands. While a young boy was lost, a Red Cross volunteer was present when an eight year old girl was found. The volunteer quickly started CPR, and the little girl recovered.

Luisa cried when the volunteer shared what had happened – a life saved makes the hard work so worthwhile.