Saving lives makes you strong

Published: 27 June 2011 16:24 CET

By Faye Callaghan in Juba

“When you save someone’s life, it energises your work. You feel you have achieved a goal, you’re stronger and you’re ready to do it again.” It’s not every day that volunteers are faced with the daunting task of taking decisive life or death action, but in Sudan it’s unfortunately a grim reality.

Taban Sabir first got involved with the Red Cross Movement when he was exiled from Sudan and living in Uganda. “It was 1997 and I was in the refugee camps. I saw the opportunity to join as a Red Cross volunteer so I took it. We worked on youth programmes and learned first aid. It gave me a strong background to the Movement.”

“After the peace agreement was signed, I came back to Sudan and volunteered for the Sudanese Red Crescent. And then in 2007 I was offered a job as disaster preparedness and response coordinator in the South. I love this role so much!” he enthused.

“Over the past few years, with support from the ICRC, we have been building the capacity of our branches in the South. We only had presence in four out of ten states so we recruited volunteers, taught them about the Movement and gave them first aid training. This is really important as the health facilities are so sparse. Often people will die of injuries that can be easily treated by someone who knows first aid and has some basic items.”

Taban says that the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement is strong in Sudan as at times during the war, they were the only organisation still operating. Recently, Sudanese Red Crescent volunteers have been assisting those displaced from the disputed region of Abyei. Taban visited the area to locate the volunteer teams from the local branches. “We have 150 volunteers there, all trained in first aid and disaster response. When the fighting broke out, everyone fled so we’re still trying to trace all our teams. We’re going to keep looking until we find them all.”

Once again the volunteers’ first aid training was needed. “Many people got injured running away. But our volunteers made sure they got first aid treatment quickly to help them keep going.”

On 9 July, South Sudan will become an independent state and a new national society will be formed. Taban hopes it will mean they will go from strength to strength and be a force for peace. “I hope we will get the resources to recruit good staff and can really inspire the population to join us as volunteers. Our Movement partners have helped us become strong, and I hope one day that we will be able to stand on our own to deliver humanitarian services.”

Asked about the challenges, Taban feels that retaining volunteers will be something the National Society will have to work on. “People have such high hopes and expectations from the new nation. There are hopes for jobs and if they come, people may not have the time to volunteer.” But ever a positive thinker, Taban hopes they will be able to put good systems in place to “keep the spirit of volunteerism alive”. He adds: “I feel proud to work for this Movement. I would never want to leave; I just ask that others join me in our great work.”