Senegal: 'I’ll be a volunteer for the rest of my life'
Volunteers from the Senegalese Red Cross talk about their experience of taking part in the Restoring Family Links (RFL) programme coordinated by the ICRC at the 116th Magal in Touba.
Maguette Baldé, aged 21, was not expected in Touba. She wasn’t one of the volunteers from the Senegalese Red Cross chosen to take part in the operation – but she was determined to be there. “I didn’t want to stay in Dakar doing nothing. I came here under my own steam, with my uniform, just in case”, she says. And she ended up helping the other volunteers to look after distressed children and parents. “I love children, and I really wanted to help”, she admits finally. Her sisters originally encouraged her to do the first-aid training given by the National Red Cross Society, and she never looked back. “I’ve been a volunteer for 10 years – you could nearly say I grew up in the Red Cross.” Helping your neighbour is a noble mission, and she advises all her friends to take the same road she has chosen. “First-aid training can save lives,” she declares. She speaks from experience: when people were wounded in a road accident, she managed to stabilize their condition before help arrived. “I was very proud and happy to be putting what I’d learned into practice. I’m going to stay a volunteer for the rest of my life”, she concludes.
“We have outstanding volunteers.” Amadou Diop, coordinator of the Restoring Family Links (RLF) programme for the ICRC, is proud. “The commitment they show to their work is second to none. During the Grand Magal we sometimes finish up at around two in the morning. After a short sleep and a meal in the main tent, they went back to helping children without a murmur, despite the difficult conditions.”
Coumba Diouf, aged 19, has been a volunteer for four months and is thrilled with her first experience in the field. In the RFL skills development course she took part in, the young woman from Saint Louis learned how to use a radio to look after adults and children who might need help during the 116th Magal in Touba. And although her tasks were mainly administrative, she still managed to sing and play with the children, to cheer them up. “There are too many children crying here – I couldn’t help secretly shedding a few tears myself,”, she confessed.
The Senegalese Red Cross which, in humanitarian matters, plays an auxiliary role to the authorities, did more than just mobilize its volunteers to help people who had become separated from their companions: it also worked closely with the regional medical authorities in Diourbel, who had set up a relief and assistance service for pilgrims. As part of this the Red Cross mobilized 161 first-aid volunteers, spread out among 74 first-aid stations – 51 of them in Touba and 23 in Mbacké.