The Seychelles raises its voice

By Falko Siewert/German Red Cross in Seychelles
"Here," says Roy Nibourette, 43, programme coordinator for the Red Cross of the Seychelles and presses the buttons on his mobile phone. "This is the last tsunami warning that the Disaster Centre sent me by text message. There were several similar warnings in the last few weeks. And just as many times, they told us to relax again. Thank goodness."

But what if it's really serious and a tsunami like the one that hit the Seychelles on 26 December 2004 is on the way? Then Roy has just four hours. Four hours to rustle up his volunteers, who would rush to the beaches by the big hotels, to warn local bathers and backpackers of the impending disaster.

But how does Roy warn the people? By waving and yelling? All the strength in his voice alone is not enough. In the future, though, it will be different, because the German Red Cross has brought megaphones, life vests and hooks, with which to haul drowning people out of the dangerous currents. This equipment is urgently needed so Roy and his volunteers can better respond to future disasters.

"Yes," says Roy, "we are lucky to live in paradise, but since December 26, we know that the security and freedom that this country radiates can be a dangerous illusion."

It was a big day for the people of the Seychelles when the four-engine Antonov cargo plane landed on 12 April, 2005 at Mahe international airport. On board: relief goods from the German Red Cross valued at 240,000 Euros. Equipment for disaster prevention, urgently-needed medications, wheelchairs, tents, generators, and water pumps. Also delivered were two cars -- the first official vehicles in the 15-year history of the Red Cross in the Seychelles. Until the German Red Cross delivered the cars, with the exception of ambulances, the National Society was totally reliant on private vehicles to carry out its work.

"We are very thankful to the German Red Cross," says the President of the Seychelles Red Cross, Collette Servina. "And we are looking forward to working together for a long time."

The tsunami on December 26 and the torrential rainfall two days later showed how important it is to prepare for disasters.

Certainly, compared with the appalling death tolls experienced by other affected countries, the Seychelles seems less hard hit. Three dead, 57 injured and 500 homeless. Yet behind these numbers lies greater suffering than simple statistics can ever show. The tsunami caused great difficulties to the livelihoods of fishermen and farmers across the archipelago.

Immediately after the tsunami, the German Red Cross sent a team of experts to help the Seychelles Red Cross to assess the damage and determine the needs. While the immediate priority was for basic medicines and first aid, early warning systems and disaster management were also discussed. Like all tsunami-affected countries, the Seychelles had to find locally-appropriate ways to prepare better for natural disasters. Thus, the German Red Cross wanted to support the Seychelles Red Cross to train volunteers and staff to disseminate early warnings, in addition to expanding programs for first aid in response to accidents on roads or at the beaches, and to increase awareness of HIV/AIDS.

As a result of the continuing collaboration between the two Societies, the local Red Cross is able to offer more first aid courses, like the one in the English River Clinic in Victoria.

"People's interest in this course is big," says Roy Nibourette. "After the tsunami, people can see just how much the Red Cross does. As well as new volunteers, many existing volunteers have remained faithful to the Red Cross and have renewed energy to do more, and we depend on them."

The Seychelles Red Cross has trained 300 people in first aid over the past five years. Sixty of them work as volunteers for the organisation. In the future, first aid seminars in hotels, schools (for teachers) and among the police are planned.

A further important component that the Seychelles Red Cross wants to expand is HIV/AIDS education.

"The Red Cross wants to run campaigns at central, public places so we can help reduce stigma," says Bettina Burgthaler, manager of the regional office of the German Red Cross in Nairobi, Kenya. In December, 2004 there were 203 known cases of HIV in the Seychelles. From January to March, the infection rate was relatively high, with 17 new cases reported. But because of stigma, it is suspected that the true figures are even higher, and many patients don't come to us until they are very sick," she says.

Apart from education courses, the Red Cross tries to reach people with poster campaigns and information brochures.

The German Red Cross is in the process of finalising an agreement with the Seychelles Red Cross for working together for the next five years. Under the agreement, the German Red Cross would give financial and organisational assistance.