Easing seafarers’ burdens through service and compassion

WHAT is it like to lead a 200-year-old maritime welfare charity that was born, raised, and managed in the ways of the old?

When Sara Baade first came to the Sailors’ Society in Southampton, Hampshire in the United Kingdom, the challenge was palpable. She was a progressive, young woman entering a traditional organization made for an industry dominated by men. All these at the height of a global pandemic.

Sara Baade, Chief Executive Officer of the Sailor's Society CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Sara Baade, Chief Executive Officer of the Sailor’s Society CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

“When I started to work for Sailors’ Society, I did not realize yet what an incredibly fascinating world I had become a part of,” Baade recalled.

She joined the Sailors’ Society in 2020, armed with a strong management background and a passion for community work. She also embraced the challenge.”I was trusted with the reins of a 200-year-old charity that needed to change to survive. And as with many changes, there had to be some difficult decisions. Some involved closing areas of the organization that we could deliver in different, more accessible ways. This meant saying goodbye to colleagues who have served the Society for a long time, often for more than 20 years. That was very difficult, even if it was the right decision,” she said.

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Understanding a seafarer’s life from the eyes of a Filipino

In that same year, Baade’s eyes were opened to the realities of a mariner’s life. It started with a Filipino seafarer.

“It was during the peak of the pandemic when our assistance was sought by a Filipino seafarer whose baby daughter was ill. He was on quarantine back then for shipboard duty and could only reach his wife by phone. I felt so proud of how our team supported them financially and emotionally; nothing could take away their pain but we were able to help even in small ways — listening, comforting, and paying for their baby’s treatment.

“The baby girl, who was just a few days old, passed away, unfortunately. The Covid-19 pandemic was a tough time for so many but some had to endure the most heart-wrenching grief. The seafarer could only console his wife by phone as he was still in quarantine when it happened. It was heartbreaking,” Baade recalled.

Such trials at the onset of her service to the world’s seafarers were like a baptism of fire. It opened Baade’s eyes to the trials and triumphs of a mariner and added vibrance to her appreciation of the seafaring profession.

“I am completely in awe of the people behind this industry. We have the privilege of working with men and women from around the world who come from all walks of life. The sacrifices they have made and continue to make to support their families or better their own lives are truly inspiring,” she said.

Baade shared that the most common concerns of seafarers onboard are homesickness, loneliness, isolation, job stability, violent storms, and piracy.

“But they are incredibly resilient. They work in a challenging and unpredictable environment,” she said.

Sailors’ Society programs for the world’s mariners and Sailors’ Society’s helpline and Crisis Response Network are open to seafarers and their families 24/7. It is manned by a team that speaks several different languages and is trained to perform wellness and peer-to-peer support programs. It also provides welfare grants to help ease the worries of seafarers.

“Our wellness program has taken off in recent years. Many Filipino seafarers have gone through our Sea Ready pre-departure training before they board their vessels.

“We also call many of their ships regularly through our Ship Connect program. Our Wellness at Sea Awareness Campaign is done on and offline and more than 70 shipping companies globally have taken it up for their seafarers, families, and shore-based staff.

“Meanwhile, our Peer-to-Peer Support Groups have proved so popular with more than 100 groups now, some specifically for female seafarers, captains, families, and cadets.

“Our cadet conferences have been so well received in the Philippines with thousands of cadets attending over the past two years. It’s a real privilege to get to know them at the start of their career to understand what drives them and the challenges that concern them.

“We publish our findings for the whole industry to learn from, and young Filipino seafarers have been a huge part of that,” Baade explained.

Bringing Filipinos closer to heart

Outside her duty as the Chief Executive Officer of the Sailors’ Society, Baade’s most important role is being a mother to 13-year-old twins. With the passing of her husband in the infancy years of their children, Baade shared the joys of raising her children with her Filipina helper.

“It is through her that we all grew to love the Philippines, their amazing food and culture, and even my children know how to speak a little Tagalog! This is why working with Filipino seafarers is extra special for me,” she said.

Baade sees herself as a true-blue community worker. She would usually open her house every Christmas to those who have no one to celebrate with, hold tea parties for the elderly at church, and support school projects.

“The greatest lesson I have learned is not about the sea but the people who ‘work the sea.’ I’m amazed by their strength, their determination, their resilience, and their adaptability. I have met some amazing people who have gone through really hard times at sea, and yet they are so humble and grateful for the experience the job gives them. I have a lot to learn from them,” she concluded.