“In the Seychelles, the Red Cross is always present.” One man’s journey to Seychelles as part of his quest to visit 190 countries

Published: 18 October 2016 12:27 CET

By Torbjørn C. Pedersen, Danish Red Cross

Torbjørn C. Pedersen, a goodwill ambassador with the Danish Red Cross, is currently travelling the world, aiming to visit all 190 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Travelling on a budget of just $20 USD per day, Thor is undertaking his journey without the convenience of air travel, something no one has ever achieved. While visiting the The Comoros Red Crescent, Thor finds he is quickly reminded about the differences and similarities between the Red Cross and Red Crescent. To read more about Thor’s journey, visit: http://www.onceuponasaga.dk/

The British general, Charles George Gordon of Khartoum (1833-1885), was convinced that Vallée de Mai was the Biblical "Garden of Eden".

Today the Vallée de Mai lies within a protected nature reserve on Praslin, one of the inner islands of the Seychelles. On nearby Mahe, the largest of the archipelago’s 115 islands, I found the headquarters of the Seychelles Red Cross on the same Friday I disembarked the containership, which got me to these faraway isles.

The Seychelles Red Cross Society HQ is a white squarish building, which the National Society occupies on a 100 year lease. It has replaced the old base, which was damaged by the 2004 tsunami. And, oh yes - it does seem like there might be a snake in paradise. But more of that later.

On the day I arrived, I had the great pleasure of sitting down with Roy Nibourette and Secretary General, Colette Servina, who immediately greeted me like family and welcomed me to the Seychelles. Since the weekend was already knocking we agreed to meet up again the following week. As a forward thinking woman, I'm sure Colette already had a plan forming in her head when she sent me off to enjoy the island. 

And enjoying the Seychelles is easily done. I had my chance to stick my pale white feet into the turquoise water of the Indian Ocean and thought about what use this country of just 90,000 people could possibly have for the Red Cross?

My host on Mahe had already explained to me that there were no dangerous snakes or spiders to worry about. And the captain of the ship, which brought me there told me that the islands are very rarely hit by any hard storms, hurricanes or cyclones - the captain said that the wrath of nature usually passes south of the islands.

The sun slowly disappeared behind the horizon while I sat in the warm sand pondering this question underneath the green palm trees.

After the weekend Colette picked me up in her car and introduced me to communications coordinator Linda Gerry. Together we went to meet members of the Red Cross club at Anse Royal Secondary School.

While on the road Colette explained that the weather had been unpredictable for several years. Temperatures, rainfall, wind - it had all been a bit unusual. That made me ask about the tsunami, which thankfully didn't claim any lives here but did cause a lot of damage to several buildings, affecting the lives of those who lived and worked in them.

The Red Cross was quick to respond with help for those in need. While the islands were for the most part spared the devastation that has been caused by the tsunami elsewhere in the Indian Ocean, a more pressing matter for Colette were the invading mosquito-carried diseases. With the high influx of tourists it has been hard to keep out deceases such as malaria, dengue, chikungunya and perhaps even zika.

These diseases do not pose any current danger but it is very good to keep an eye on "the ball" and act before it gets a chance to spread.

Inside the school we were greeted by Miranda who was one of the very first members of the Seychelles Red Cross Society. She is another warm personality and yet another real "Red Crosser" who puts in a lot of work as the leader of the schools’ Red Cross group. In total there are 13 school club leaders across the Seychelles.

This group consisted of students as well as a few young members of the Seychellois workforce. The group was very alert and they were all in good spirits as I told them of my travels and in return I learned a little something about what volunteers in the Seychelles Red Cross Society are all about. They naturally spread the 7 fundamental principles and practice first aid like everywhere else around the world. But they also promote road safety, sensitize and promote the importance of donating blood while also working on developing water safety by strengthening skills within water rescue. The Seychelles Red Cross Society is in fact very ambitious regarding first aid, aiming at having at least 1 first aider in every home by 2020.

When it was time to leave, Linda, Colette and I got back in the car and headed to the HQ. There I met a lot more people including the Red Cross President Kisnan Tamatave along with Chrystold Chetty who was the founder of the Seychelles Red Cross Society back in 1989. There is a really strong spirit among the Seychelles Red Cross Society and hardly anyone I met seemed to have been a member for less than 20 years. This is of course not true within itself as new volunteers sign up every year, but my point would be that the Seychellois Red Cross family is very strong. 

The Seychelles Red Cross Society is deeply involved with many different aspects of humanitarian work. I was told that the small population works both for and against them in that aspect.

There is no doubt that a strong network exists between the Red Cross and the local community. Sooner or later anyone who is doing anything crosses paths with each other. But it is clear that cooperation exists just as much out of necessity for the isolated islanders. 

Accountability comes to mind when reflecting on the Seychelles Red Cross Society and its activities. Whether it be as a provider of ambulance and first aid services, giving psychosocial support, being a reliable partner in times of disaster or assisting fire victims and detained fishermen, the Seychellois know that they can always count on the Red Cross to be there for them.

While the small paid staff only accounts for 7 members, the many Red Cross volunteers ensure high visibility at carnivals, sporting events and other social gatherings.

Unfortunately this is in part where a small population works against the Seychelles Red Cross Society. Colette briefly looked towards the ground and then straight into my eyes: "one of our 2 ambulances is 20 years old and we need a new one. But it's very hard to raise that kind of money - so we try to keep it on its wheels".

It appears to me that the Seychelles Red Cross Society offers both passion and dedication, ensuring that paradise remains exactly that.

And as I boarded yet another ship and saw a few of the 115 islands slowly disappear behind me I knew that in the Seychelles, the Red Cross is always present.