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From a one-day volunteer to a forever volunteer

Read time: 4 min

"I’ll take time off to do ‘just’ that"
Etienne Gadeceau - first aid volunteer

“I’ll take time off to do ‘just’ that”. Etienne Gadeceau - first aid volunteer - a 50-year-old from Lyon transforms his sporadic volunteer actions into a weekly commitment when Covid-19 hits the world over.

Getting in the saddle through volunteering initiatives

Etienne has long been driven by two things, curiosity and organizing, and both relate to the volunteering world. “He is curious”, says one of his Red Cross colleagues. “If 5 minutes go by and Etienne asks no questions, it’s a clear sign, he’s not in good shape”.

This father of 3 is a super traveler super organizer. He anticipates, plans, and organizes everything. He can plan everything out a year in advance.

It was AXA Hearts in Action that got him started as a volunteer. It already attracted him but at that time it was occasional volunteering. “AXA Hearts in Action gave me the opportunity to get in the saddle and it was an ideal way to get exposed to a multitude of actions”. His first mission was organizing a concert, an activity that left him with a lasting imprint.

Stepping up to fight against Covid-19

After sporadically volunteering for over 20 years, Etienne came to the realization that he could in his own way contribute to fighting Covid-19 and that there was no way he could just stay on the sidelines.

When he heard the government announcing a ‘crisis situation’ and at the same time requesting people to stay home, this went against his values. “There was no way I could just sit still”. He spent almost all his free time looking for where he might help until he found an offer from the Protection Civile to help hospitals. He started out running. He bettered his skills day after day as he received patients and designated where they were to go. He kept this up for 2 full months juggling up to three 6-hour missions a week.

Seeing him so inspired by his actions motivated his wife to join him in the Civil Protection actions in hospitals. From time to time, she also participated in the AXA Hearts in Action initiatives. In the Gadeceau family, volunteering is sometimes even done as a family. Etienne remembers when his daughter once came to distribute meals. "It was quite inspiring for those around us, it was fun".

Reenergizing thanks to the people he met

Although he now carries out his actions as a first-aider with passion, the Covid-19 period challenged him in ways he couldn’t have imagined. "I've come to see my loved one because he is going to die", "I've come to collect the deceased's belongings", "Where is room X (the morgue)?”, are questions Etienne heard repeatedly. One weekend, after three shifts that week, Etienne reached his limit. "If I'm called in for backup, I won't go," he recalls. The biggest danger is the physical, emotional, and mental buildup you don't see coming.

What kept him going? The encounters he made. In Poissy, he did voluntary work in a level 3 maternity hospital; that is to say, one that specialises in monitoring pregnancies presenting a risk for the unborn child. And the thing Etienne remembers is that, despite the complicated period, he also saw beautiful things happening. Births. "I exchanged with parents I met at the hospital and sometimes got to see their newborn. It was a huge boost”.

"This confronts you with new things that you can reinject into your daily work and it's amazing. It's indescribable, you live everything from the inside"

Opening a new chapter with the Red Cross

Since Etienne officially became a Red Cross first-aider in early 2021, part of his work is now to carry out victim rescue missions for the SAMU or the fire brigade. Depending on the diagnosis, a crew of 4-5 people is sent on a mission that can last up to 2 hours. At the beginning, it was not first aid that thrilled Etienne. He discovered this activity through his missions at the hospital and by talking to people, by seeing what they do.

And now, he can't see himself doing anything but this. “It's really great, it gives you a lot of energy. You have to be an actor to make things happen”. His dream is now to become a skilled first-aider. Etienne is still learning, so his dream will come true once he’s achieved the level of first aid expertise he’d like to have.

Living fully

Two years ago, Etienne could not have imagined he’d be able to invest so much time to voluntary work, with so many new things to learn and so many beautiful encounters. It is extraordinary that, in a complicated period like covid, Etienne deepened his motivation and broadened his appreciation of his professional activity. "This confronts you with new things that you can reinject into your daily work and it's amazing. It's indescribable, you live everything from the inside”.

Etienne concludes with a message for people who would like to become volunteers: “Be super engaged in your search for the right structure to be sure it meets your expectations. Be active and ask every question you may have, and you’re bound to find the right fit”.

AXA Hearts in Action

AXA Hearts in Action is the international volunteering program initiated by Claude Bébéar, AXA Group’s founder, in 1991. This program has been implemented in all local entities and now reflects the breadth of the Group’s activities. AXA Hearts in Action embodies not only the Group’s core values but also, and above all, our employees’ commitments to serving others, as an extension of our insurance business.