Article written for ALPA-SA from Richard Greeff. Richard is a Mayday-SA Peer (June 2015)
‘How wonderful it is to talk to somebody who understands what I am going through”
“This is a long overdue and necessary intervention to discuss any incident”
“A fantastic, enthusiastic group of volunteers ready to be supportive of their peers across the different facets of the South African Flying community”
These quotes encapsulate the thoughts of some of the 20 South African pilot volunteers and a psychologist who worked with laughter, dedication and enthusiasm learning how to support colleagues and friends who might be calling for support having been involved in an incident or accident. This the first of two 3-day training courses planned for 2013.
Mayday-SA is taking form building a huge vision into reality to become a ‘first port of call’ when a license holder needs a safe place to talk but doesn’t know to whom or where to turn for support. Our primary objective is to provide a caring and confidential environment able to support colleagues in a skilled, knowledgeable way through whatever circumstance or crisis confronts them and, in so doing, contribute towards safety.
A call went out from Industry in August 2012, to establish Mayday-SA as a volunteer-driven organisation providing support for South African aviation license holders involved in the turmoil, crisis and the sometimes devastating aftermath of aviation critical incidents and accidents, as well as other personal life crises.
Learning from programmes within the aviation industry around the world, in May 2013 Mayday-SA took its first steps into the broader mandate and challenge articulated at the August 2012 gathering of SA aviation interest groups. This event combined a group of airline, industry and general aviation pilots, who responded to Mayday-SA’s request for new team members.
The role of a peer, walking alongside and supporting a colleague who is facing a personal and/ or professional crisis, is to be a skilled listener, an attribute which requires specific training, beyond their interest and desire to serve.
The training was conducted by trainers from the German organisation Stiftung Mayday, an organisation which has focussed on supporting license holders for the past 17 years, and a special partner to Mayday-SA. It has inspired many of the decisions taken in the early months of the SA-based “fledgling” which seeks as a part of its role, to emulate the powerful impact of support provided after aviation incidents and accidents.
The peer concept is one of ‘prevention is better than cure’. The concept of this ‘peer or buddy system’ has proven very effective internationally over decades because Peer-Volunteers, such as the group trained in May:
- speak a common ‘language’ which allow a person in crisis to feel understood,
- provide a sense of community, a perception of being ‘on the same side’, so the process is seen as trustworthy,
- understand the stresses unique of the operating environment and relate to the impact these may have on the person in crisis as they seek to live a ‘normal’ life.
Mayday-SA will develop different Peer teams over time – starting with the pilot community. Once the model has stabilised, teams for other types of license holders will be recruited and trained, and brought into Mayday-SA’s operational framework. The ideal is to have a diverse team of peers who can identify with another’s operating context as closely as possible. Surrounding the core peer teams will be a carefully selected network of professionals.
The May training of our first Group of Peer Volunteers was a great leap forward in realising our goals and vision that we have committed to in response to the request in August last year, to establish such a structure and team to attend to the “buried” needs of our aviation colleagues. We are thrilled at the outcomes and the enthusiasm of the special group who assembled and sacrificed their time to get Mayday-SA on its exciting journey.