"The teenagers do not know how serious a cyclone can be,” Story from one man’s journey to Mauritius as part of his quest to visit 190 countries

Publicado: 18 octubre 2016 14:24 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/

"You gather the idea that Mauritius was made first, and then heaven, and that heaven was copied after Mauritius". Those were the eloquent words of Mark Twain after he paid a visit to the tropical island in the Indian Ocean. And Twain knew what he was talking about - Mauritius boasts its dramatic volcanic mountains above its white sandy beaches and clean turquoise-coloured waters.

I was a long way from Mauritius when I received my first email from Navin Mahadoo, the Programmes/Disaster Management and Risk Reduction Coordinator for the Mauritius Red Cross Society. If his job title sounds like a lot to swallow, wait until you hear that he is also currently also standing in as the Secretary General.

That is due to the job currently being vacant, but it is no issue for a man with 25 years of Red Cross experience under his belt. Navin was there at the port to meet me as my ship came along side. Shortly after we were having coffee and talking about how we could best take advantage of my visit.

The actual case being that there was much to do in terms of raising awareness, finances and volunteers for the Mauritius Red Cross Society. When you combine that with a goodwill ambassador stepping off a containership, after having visited more than half the world, then you've got a story. A press conference had already been arranged, along with a list of other activities, to increase visibility for the Mauritius Red Cross Society.

We finished our coffee, shook hands and parted mutually inspired by our first meeting.

The next day began at the Mall of Mauritius, where Mauritius Red Cross Society had recently been promoting 'first aid for all', 'disaster risk reduction (DRR) ' and 'road safety', as part of Mauritius Red Cross Society roaming sensitization campaign across the nation.

It had been a tremendous success and Mauritius Red Cross Society volunteers have reached thousands of Mauritians at each stop of the caravan throughout the country. In the mall we met with Citadel, a garments manufacturer and retailer that collaborates with the Mauritius Red Cross Society. Ten per cent from the sale of every t-shirt goes to the Red Cross as an income generating activity (IGA).

But Navin had taken it one step further. Citadel has a cartoon character named "Dood the dodo". The dodo is the famous, and now extinct bird of Mauritius, and the country’s national bird. Dood the dodo has now been adopted as the official mascot of Mauritius Red Cross Society, and appears wearing a Red Cross vest. 

During a few interviews before and after the press conference, I met with Oormeela Jawaheer, the president of Mauritius Red Cross Society. Oormeela joined the Red Cross at a very young age and now has more than half a century of Red Cross experience to her name.

She is a kind woman with her eye on the ball but confessed to me that she has some concerns. While Mauritius has undergone rapid development and has become one of the best-protected and sustainable countries in the world, volunteerism has dropped noticeably over the years.

It is the country’s youth that is particularly difficult to motivate. "The teenagers do not know how serious a cyclone can be. Children cheer at cyclone warnings and see them as a day off from school. Our last serious cyclone, which caused death and damage was 'Hollande' back in 1994. But the youth is not old enough to remember it and do not take it seriously.”

In fact it is a very serious matter as Mauritius is prone to the cyclones, which appear in the region every year. Navin explained that that Indian Ocean provides perfect conditions for cyclones to be formed.

The Mauritius Red Cross Society works in close correlation with PIROI (Plate-forme d'Intervention Régionale de l'Océan Indien) to assess the risk and reduce it wherever possible. The climate has been changing noticeably over the years and that is of great concern to the all nations within the Indian Ocean.

As a visual testimony to the fierce nature of cyclones, most Mauritian villages today are made of concrete houses, and not of wood as in the past. Many of the wooden houses were torn to pieces in past cyclones.

Cyclones are not nature’s only threat towards Mauritius. The Mauritius Red Cross Society also deals with earthquakes, tsunamis, drought, flooding, landslides and tidal waves.

This I learned much more of when I visited the headquarters of Mauritius Red Cross Society in the town of Curepipe which is located centrally on the island. Apart from giving the Red Cross easy access to the entire country it is also a historical war memorial building, which was built by the British in 1954, in the aftermath of 2nd World War.

It still houses a book with all the names of the dead and people still visit the building to read in it.

Today it is the roof over numerous activities that keeps the Mauritius Red Cross Society busy. It is also the roof over another IGA, a second hand clothing store. It generates almost as much revenue as the Citadel t-shirts, although items are often sold for symbolical amounts.

As the nation’s economy is shooting forward there are still those who need a helping hand to keep up, or adjust to the galloping development. And it can be embarrassing to admit it if you want to keep up appearances, so while second hand clothes might be a taboo for some people it simply makes good sense to others. And the Red Cross does a great job helping out while keeping it discreet.

As I left the headquarters I shook Oormeela's hand followed by Navin's.

Between our first handshake and our last we had met with volunteers, business leaders, journalists, students, government and even a few Rotary branches. I felt that we had largely achieved what we wanted: a national promotion of the world’s largest humanitarian organization along with an open invitation towards volunteerism in Mauritius.

As I parted with Oormeela and Navin and their more-than 75 years of Red Cross experience I knew for sure that in Mauritius the Red Cross is always present.