U.S. Embassy Namibia Respond-Rescue Program for National Development Certificate Handover, John M. Kowalski, Deputy Chief of Mission

It is my pleasure to join you today to celebrate the successful completion of the Namibia Fire and Rescue RESPOND Programme, a program through which 132 Namibians have improved their capacity to serve as First Responders.

What is a First Responder?  Simply put, a First Responder is someone who is first on a disaster scene, someone who saves lives.

The American people funded this training with $700,000 provided to Rescue South Africa. This initiative is part of a $23 million Disaster Risk Reduction program that is managed by the U.S. Agency for International Developments Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA/USAID). In total, 316 Namibians have been trained under the OFDA/USAID program. The 132 Namibians that we celebrate today have completed the RESPOND coursework.

I am always somewhat humbled when speaking to first responders.  The people recognized here today have signed on for a noble cause. The first responder is the first person on a disaster scene, the one who assesses the situation, decides what is needed, and communicates his or her findings in the most timely way possible.  Often, a First Responder is someone who is willing to risk his or her own life to save others.

The five trainers here who will accept certificates on behalf of the 132 newly-trained First Responders shoulder an even greater responsibility as they are the ones who equip others with the knowledge and mental fitness to tame chaos.

All of you are heroes and your contribution will be evident as you train others to respond to disaster, to save lives and to enable Namibia to continue to prosper.

Namibia is prone to natural disasters.  An arid country, Namibia is especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change which could make future disasters more frequent and more dangerous.   By supporting this dedicated group of individuals, we have bolstered the quality and quantity of trained urban search and rescue technicians.  This will have lasting and life-saving effects in Namibia.

Sixteen years ago, the United States Agency for International Development – known better by its acronym USAID – began working with Rescue South Africa, conducting an initial train-the-trainer course in South Africa.

More recently, USAID has supported Rescue South Africa’s mission to build the emergency response capacity of First Responders in Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Zambia, and Namibia; creating certified teams able to handle sudden-onset disasters both locally and across the region.

Through close coordination with Japan, Rescue South Africa and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, our combined efforts have led to the creation of a group of search-and-rescue professionals easily identified through an African Union-maintained database.  Should the need arise, this database will be used to efficiently assemble teams to respond to emergencies in the region.

In closing, I would like to congratulate the Namibian government, all of you present here today, and each and every member of the country’s response teams for your unwavering dedication to this crucial program. Today’s ceremony and handover of certificates to your staff will mean that more precious Namibian lives will be saved in future.

Thank you.