SA’s life-saving ambassadors

15 December 2004

When a South African helicopter crew airlifted newly born baby Rosita Pedro and her mother from a treetop during the 2000 floods in Mozambique, the image was beamed across the globe.

The rescue operation – which saved over 14 000 people from the devastating floods – was a collaboration between the SA National Defence Force, the Mozambican rescue services and Rescue South Africa.

In 2003, the International Marketing Council of SA (IMC) launched radio and television advertising campaigns to recognise the extraordinary contributions of ordinary South Africans to the upliftment of our nation. Rescue South Africa is one such organisation.

Established in 1999, Rescue SA provides multi-agency, multi-disciplined responses to rapid-onset disasters in South Africa, across the southern African region and further abroad – saving lives while being ambassadors for the country.

The Rescue SA team – made up of about 45 volunteers from emergency service departments across the country – has been deployed to countries such as India, Tanzania, Algeria, Mozambique and Turkey, rescuing of victims of earthquakes, volcano eruptions, bomb explosions, floods and bus and train accidents.

“It is important for South Africa to become a global citizen”, says Rescue SA founding board member Ian Scher. “Countries all over the world supported us during our transformation period, and now it is time for our nation to give something back to the international community.

“We are an extraordinary people with courage and determination, and our can-do-attitude has set us in good stead.”

Rescue SA was born of a desire among South African emergency responders and humanitarian aid workers, of all disciplines and persuasions, to create a non-aligned, apolitical response capacity for large-scale disaster and relief operations.

This was achieved by unlocking team members’ talents and energies.

Rescue SA volunteers are selected from all nine provinces according to their skills and expertise. The training they undergo, and the work they are exposed to, gives them the opportunity to acquire more skills, which they are able to share with their colleagues back home.

Rescue SA forms part of the United Nations International Search and Rescue Advisory Group, which falls under the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, based in Geneva.

Working closely with the Department of Foreign Affairs and the National Disaster Management Centre, the organisation aims to unite the resources of the private and public sectors with a response organisation in the service of man, in so doing creating a national response asset.

Among the sponsors of Rescue SA are the City of Johannesburg, SA Airways, Gift of the Givers, the SA Air Force, Pepper & Rogers Group, The Digital Mall Group and Netcare 911.

Netcare, an avid supporter of Rescue SA since its inception, has committed to providing paramedics, medicine, medical equipment and a trauma communications centre.

“We have had great support from the public and private sectors”, says Scher. “The South African public has also rallied behind us and shown us that we are indeed a country united in diversity.

“Having been in the emergency service industry for 25 years, I have come to realise that we are a genuinely caring and optimistic nation.”

IMC CEO Yvonne Johnston comments: “Although most South Africans do not have the medical expertise or the rescue capabilities of the Rescue South Africa team members, we can all make a difference in our communities by volunteering our time to help those who are less fortunate – or even ‘rescuing’ our neighbour with a kind gesture or a word of encouragement.”

For more information on Rescue South Africa, contact Ian Scher on 082 459 9765 or visit the Rescue South Africa website. reporter