Seven-month-old Keetika Tongarua has almost died twice in her short life, but has been saved each time by her grandmother, who learnt first-aid skills at a Red Cross village course. Keetika lives in the village of Betio on Kiribati’s main island of Tarawa. She is a happy, healthy child who likes to put everything in her mouth. When she was four months old, one of the village children gave her a piece of pancake and she started choking.

“She was very small then, so I turned her on her stomach, held her in one hand and gave her some blows to the back with the other hand,” says life-saving grandmother Teabike Kaintiku.“Then when it came up, I hooked the piece of pancake out with my finger. She cried for a while, but recovered quickly.”

Teabike learned how to save a choking child from Kiribati Red Cross Society first-aid instructor Taborenga Takabea. A few months before the incident, Taborenga and other instructors had run a course for around 50 people in the village, covering the basics of first aid. Teabike says if it wasn’t for the course, she would not have known the back blow technique she used to save her granddaughter.

The National Society has run similar courses in six villages, and six more are planned for the near future. Taborenga, who was trained by a New Zealand Red Cross first-aid instructor and recently completed a refresher course, says she is impressed Teabike retained so much of what she had taught her.

Keetika with her mother lifesaving grandmother Teabike Kaintiku

Keetika with her mother lifesaving grandmother Teabike Kaintiku

“I feel very happy, excited and proud that what I taught was well used,” she says. When asked whether this makes her a good teacher, Taborenga smiles shyly and replies: “Maybe.”

After the pancake incident, Keetika had a similar drama, this time choking on a piece of donut. Once again, her grandmother saved her.

Teabike has also helped with other injuries around Betio village, including a woman who was badly scalded by boiling water. “I feel really ready for anything that might happen in the community, to be able to help,” she says.

The project to bring first-aid skills to villages in Kiribati is part of a wider initiative within the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement to make first-aid training more widely available based on the needs of a community.