One of the fascinating aspects of the peaceful society on Tristan da Cunha is the pride the Islanders take in their heritage of rescuing people from shipwrecks. A couple years ago, when a huge cargo vessel, the MS Oliva, struck a reef on the nearby Nightingale Island, boats quickly rescued the crew before the ship sank.

Conrad GlassRescuers took the crew, many of whom were Filipinos, back to their settlement and housed them until relief vessels could take them home. They’ve been doing that sort of thing for nearly 200 years.

The Islanders, proud of their tradition of helping others, exhibited an outpouring of generosity immediately after Typhoon Haiyan smashed through the central Philippines. They were reminded of their recent Filipino guests and of the way others had helped them 50 years ago when an eruption of the volcano on their own island forced them to evacuate to England for a couple years. The Islanders recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of their safe return to Tristan.

On November 12th, Conrad Glass, the island’s policeman, proposed that the Islanders should gather a relief fund for the typhoon victims. He arranged a meeting with Alex Mitham, the new Administrator, Dawn Repetto the head of the Tourism Department, Lorraine Repetto, the island Treasurer, plus two people from St. Mary’s School, Anne Green and Carl Lander.

They quickly organized a variety of events to raise funds. Their major project was to hold a sponsored swimming event for the kids in the school swimming pool, with the object being to see if all the students together could swim, in the pool in one day, a distance equivalent to a round trip swim around the island.

The distance, 20 nautical miles or 36,000 m. (36 km), would be reached if swimmers could cover 1800 lengths of the pool. The sponsored swimming event was scheduled for last Thursday, November 21. At first the weather was unfavorable, but by 10:00 AM the wind had dropped and the sky cleared. Classes of school children came out with their teachers and swam, in the morning alone, 14,320 m. In the afternoon, looking a bit worn out, the children swam an additional 10,815 m.

Later in the afternoon, some older children swam 6,500 m., and in the evening, under lights, two boys, Randall Repetto and Luis Enrique Lander, completed an amazing 6,000 m. between them—after six hours of swimming. In total, the kids swam 37.6 km, well over the circumference of the island.

The kids were not the only ones raising funds for the relief effort. Adults held a raffle, with people donating handicrafts and knitwear. They had a shooting competition, set out donation buckets in the community, had a drawing, held a bake sale, and raised, as of November 22, £1181.05 (US$1913.42). The sponsored swimming alone raised £390.65 as of the 22nd, and not all contributions had yet been counted.

While the fund raising was going on, Conrad Glass summarized the feelings of the Islanders at a public reception. “The memories of the survivors asking for help from our TV screens I guess moved all of us to help….We share a similar fate with [the Filipinos] of surviving a natural disaster.” He thanked everyone who had contributed to the effort.