‘Helping is in my blood’

2019-05-20 16:38
Well-known and liked veteran search and rescue police ­officer Lieutenant Jack Haskins at his new job working with children at the Angel’s Care Crisis Centre in Howick. Haskins recently returned from helping with the clean-up process in Mozambique following Cyclone Idai.

Well-known and liked veteran search and rescue police ­officer Lieutenant Jack Haskins at his new job working with children at the Angel’s Care Crisis Centre in Howick. Haskins recently returned from helping with the clean-up process in Mozambique following Cyclone Idai. (Ian Carbutt)

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After almost three years of retirement, veteran police ­officer and Pietermaritzburg hero Jack Haskins recently re-entered the world of search and rescue to help in Mozambique for 10 days following Cyclone Idai.

Haskins, a police lieutenant, retired from the police in 2016 following a lengthy career in search and rescue.

Haskins now works at the Angel’s Care Crisis Centre for abused children and women in Howick.

He said he was called by Rescue SA who asked if he would help the team in Mozambique.

“The United Nations called on Rescue South Africa who then made up a team to go help in Mozambique.

“We landed in Pemba, Mozambique on April 29. It was raining quite hard when we arrived but it eased off as the days went on. It was very hot there.

“We spent the night in Pemba, in the airport’s fire station. They moved all the fire trucks out and we slept on the floor,” said Haskins with a laugh.

“Most of the team knew each other in some way or another and we all had one thing in common: our passion for wanting to get out there and help where we could.”

He said when they left for Mozambique, they were unsure what to expect as they had seen rescuers through the news, flying around in helicopters, trying to save people from the flooding.

“From Pemba we went to Ibo Island. Luckily nobody was seriously injured and no one had died so we didn’t carry out any rescues.”

He said the wind had hit the island, doing more damage than flooding.

“There were massive trees that had fallen down on the roads and people’s houses had collapsed or the roofs had blown off.

“There were a few people sitting on the roadside building up new houses already.”

He said they were then split into two teams and were tasked with clearing the roads to clinics, hospitals and villages.

“It got the adrenaline pumping again but it also made me realise that I am not 20 years old anymore.”

Haskins said the group helped erect a “tent town” on the island and spent a few days digging pit latrines.

“The soil was soft but every now and then you would hit some sort of coral rock with a pick and you could feel the vibrations go right up your arm.”

He said although there were other teams from other countries, their group was “really the only one on the ground, helping the UN with all the labour”.

“It felt good going out there. We didn’t have to rescue anyone but I feel we still made a difference to the community.

“We were not expecting to spend our time chopping up trees and clearing roads. We were expecting to be swimming down rivers.

“I was not disappointed that there were no rescues. The community was really appreciative of our help.”

Haskins said the situation was not as bad as other disaster areas in the past and that the last disaster he attended outside South Africa was in 2003 in Nigeria.

“When you are retired and you sit at home, you do miss it. It is in my blood to go out there and help people. It always has been,” said Haskins.

Haskins on to a different kind of rescue

Haskins started working at the Angel’s Care Crisis Centre in Howick shortly after his retirement. He has been at the centre for two years as its manager.

“I love it here. The little ones here come from difficult backgrounds and we are able to help them. I guess it is a different sort of rescue. Everyone who works here is around to help, but sometimes I think they help us more.”

Haskins is called “Uncle Jack” by the children, and works with social workers, nurses and police at the centre following abuse cases on women and children.

Walking through the centre, children flocked to Haskins, grabbing his hand and greeting him with big smiles. I never saw myself wiping snotty noses,” said Haskins with a laugh.


Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  pmb people

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