I am currently sitting in my hotel room in Germany – the day before the World Conference on Drowning Prevention starts – reflecting back on the fun week in Lebanon that I had.
Firstly, I am very very pleased to report that all Instructors passed their Survive & Save Instructor course very well – and continued with the excellent standard to deliver some great teaching. I am also very pleased to report that all of the children that came to the Survive & Save camp successfully completed their Life Support, Bronze Core, and Bronze Medallion awards. It was great to see them leave with a spark of lifesaving inside them – some of them excited about the CPR & First Aid, others excited by the sport – but all of them had a good time, which is what it is about at the end of the day.
From my perspective, I had an amazing experience, once again I have travelled to a “scary” country to deliver lifesaving training to a group of people I have never met, and once again I am simply blown away by their motivation, dedication, and professionalism. Once again, I am humbled by the amazing people, and they things that they do. Once again, I leave the country sadly – not feeling ready to leave my new friends. Once again, I leave the country richer – I have seen, learnt, and experienced far more than I taught… and that is thanks to the kindness, friendship, and love shown by the people I have met.
I think the one phrase that will stick in my mind from this trip is “During the war…”. The only time I had really heard that before was in Only Fools and Horses (a British TV comedy). Instead, this phrase was coming out of the mouths of young men and women – my age – and they were talking about a bloody and savage conflict that they had participated in – as volunteer members of the red cross providing front line emergency services to the public caught in the cross-fire.
A comment on a Facebook post from my aunt said something like “It is so nice to hear positive stories coming out of Lebanon – normally we only hear about the trouble.” I talked about this with a few of my new Lebanese friends, and I was really touched by what they said. The general feeling was that they are proud to be Lebanese, they live in a beautiful country, and they are acutely aware of the negative press – so go out of their way to make sure that people see a good and positive side of Lebanon. Truly, the generosity of strangers touched me. One example – we were peering through the windows of a particularly large church, the soldier outside had told us that it was closed today. The caretaker, saw us peering through, and came up and asked if we would like to go inside – and unlocked the door for us. He then proceeded to show us all around, explaining about the structure, the icons, and the symbology of the church. Once he had finished the tour, he invited us for coffee with him – explaining that he could see I was foreign, and that he felt an obligation that this foreigner should be able to see around his church, as this might be the only chance I got.
There is so much for me to digest, and I have not really spoken to anyone about the trip yet, I do not know what to say. I have never been to place where you can still see hotel buildings smashed to pieces by shells, next to a beautiful marina, and big shopping centre. The conflict is real, the tension is real, but the people are amazing (I know I keep using the word, but I do not know what else to say).
The most humbling experience, was looking around one of the Red Cross ambulance stations. The entire despatch office still paper based, the computers are there – but they don’t have the mapping software. From this station, nine ambulance were deployed. Only one AED between them, so it stayed on station until they got a cardiac call. Only a few maternity packs, so they stayed on station too. The ambulances were staffed by four volunteers, except during the war, when they went down to three – so they could run more ambulances, and fit more patients inside. In terms of kit, they had a scoop, a stretcher, a trolley, some rope, an O2 set with masks, suction, a selection of splints, a selection of bandages, some Guedel airways, and a pulse oxymeter. In my eyes, this mostly falls under the category of a “well equipped first aid kit” rather than “an ambulance”. With that kit, they are dealing with the full range of medical emergencies a city can have, combined with car bombs, shelling, and the trauma of war.
They do this for free, one twelve hour night shift every week, one fifty hour shift over the weekend every month. FOR FREE. On top of their day jobs.
I understand what motivates people to volunteer, because I do it myself… but the level of dedication from these young men and women – most of them were in their 20s is just humbling. I have lots more to write, and lots more to think about, but for now I will stop there. Thanks for reading, please get in touch if you think you can help, want more information, or would like to donate money.