‘Pwan douvan, avan douvan pwan ou’

It’s a saying in in the Kweyol language that is spoken in St. Lucia that literally means take in front before in front takes you. In other words, get prepared to face a situation before you are forced to face the consequences. This is exactly what a small group of volunteers of the St. Lucia Red Cross is doing that embodies the spirit and impact of community-led volunteerism.

In a van winding along hillside roads just 10 miles outside of Saint Lucia’s capital, Diana Gabriel is explaining how her Red Cross branch started. “In 2012 a group of us were trained to respond to disasters. We were a group of people who wanted to help, and Red Cross came to train us to be ready to help our community.” Seven years later, Diana’s 17-member branch is irrefutable evidence of the positive effect that dedicated volunteers can have in their own communities.

Diana is Vice President of the Anse la Raye Red Cross branch and her coastal, hillside community is threatened by floods every rainy season. On Christmas Eve 2013, Anse la Raye experienced severe flooding which led to the cancellation of midnight religious services. The flooding and landslides were responsible for the deaths of six people. Staying up all night through the vicious storm, Diana and other branch volunteers spent their Christmas day assessing the damage and relaying information back to the Red Cross headquarters about what their community needed.

Terencia Gillard, Secretary General of the Saint Lucia Red Cross knew it had been important to make this community disaster ready, “This community has a major flooding problem and we are often called to respond here, so we decided it was necessary to have people on the ground in that community, which can be very hard to access after floods, to tell us what they need straight away. By training people on the ground, we know we have first responders ready to go.”

Gradually the group of volunteers has expanded the work they do in Anse la Raye and now they are doing what Red Cross does best – using their knowledge of their own community combined with the skills gained from the Red Cross National Society to undertake projects large and small. As part of a regional response to a Zika outbreak in 2016 the Anse la Raye branch has been engaging their community to prevent the next outbreak of mosquito-borne diseases,. Diana and her team have been going house to house, speaking to their neighbours about how to protect themselves and their community, having town hall meetings, meeting with parents and day care centres and repeatedly leading clean-up activities with local partners. An example of how life comes full circle, they’ve even given first aid training to children in the same schools they attended when they were young.

The community members turned Red Cross volunteers of Anse la Raye are determined to better their neighbourhood. They have had bake sales and raffles to raise money in order to complete a wide variety of projects to address the needs they have identified. In February this year the group decided that a broken path near a frequently used bridge was dangerous to the elderly and children. The team gathered after work to build a short footpath and fix the problem.  One of the volunteers, Styne Danzie, explained “We started working at around 6:30 pm and finished a few hours later. We all work during the day so we make sure we are doing things to help in the evenings. We decide to do the things our community needs most”.

The other residents of Anse la Raye must surely be saying ‘Mesi!’ (Thank you!)