Obituary: Olioliga Iosua (Oli), Tuvalu Red Cross Society

Published: 1 February 2016 9:10 CET

Red Cross and Red Crescent partners have been paying tribute to the late Olioliga Iosua (Oli), Secretary General of the Tuvalu Red Cross Society, who passed away in Funafuti on Friday, January 28th after a long illness.

Oli joined Tuvalu Red Cross as secretary general in October 2014 having retired from the Tuvalu Civil Service where her last position was Secretary for the Ministry of Education.  She was widely recognized as an inspirational and visionary leader by colleagues at home and in the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.  Despite her humble nature, she stood out as a leading humanitarian voice in the Pacific and served as an exemplary role model for Tuvalu Red Cross volunteers and members, instilling in them the highest standards and principles.

A tribute by the Tuvalu Red Cross Society, expresses the deep loss felt by her friends and colleagues.

“We mourn the loss of one hardworking woman who had contributed so much to her family, home island, the nation, to the organization within the country as well as abroad”.

Despite her short tenure at Tuvalu Red Cross Oli will be remembered for her many accomplishments. With her great enthusiasm, amiability and dedication, she worked with staff and volunteers to revitalize nine of the national society’s outer island branches. In the wake of tropical Cyclone Pam which swept through the Pacific last year; despite the logistical challenges, she ensured that her volunteers reached affected communities in Tuvalu’s most isolated islands some of which took days to reach by boat.

Under her leadership the Tuvalu Red Cross volunteer base grew as she actively promoted youth as leaders in humanitarian action. The national societies programme activities also expanded to include health (first aid, voluntary non-renumerated blood donation, raising awareness of non-communicable diseases, and social care support for elderly and disabled people), and also climate change and disaster management (early warning, water and sanitation, community disaster preparedness).

Oli was a champion of the people and she had a deep commitment to gender and diversity and social inclusion issues. She was a passionate advocate for using the Fundamental Principles as the guide that should always aim to expand Red Cross work into areas that others cannot reach and was committed to developing her national society’s ever increasing network of community based branches.

As an active Red Cross leader in the Pacific; Oli contributed to the building of common standards, understanding and mutual partnership among Pacific National Societies.  Like many small island nations in the Pacific, Tuvalu is vulnerable to the increasing impacts of climate change and rising sea levels.  Oli played an active role in raising awareness about climate change and campaigning for action on risk reduction and mitigation measures to build the resilience of local communities.

Oli had the honour to be the Secretary General who took the Tuvalu Red Cross Society to recognition at the 2015 General Assembly when it became the 190th national society to join the International Federation. She was extremely proud of that honour but humbly acknowledged the many before her who had contributed to her national society’s long journey to recognition over successive decades. Sadly, her illness prevented her from making the journey to the General Assembly to receive the recognition in person.

“With her departure Tuvalu and the IFRC has lost one of our finest”, said Xavier Castellanos, Regional Director of the IFRC in Asia Pacific. “We are looking forward to accompanying the Tuvalu Red Cross on their future journey, building on the solid foundation which Oli helped to create”.

Oli is survived by her two sons and daughter Tamala who is Vice President of Funafuti branch volunteers. All her children and grandchildren are either members or volunteers of the Tuvalu Red Cross.