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Friday, August 15, 2014

Restoring Communication After 13 Years

Local Red Cross workers connected a Colorado mother with her daughter in Uganda after they had been separated for over 10 years.

Sarah was separated from her family as a young girl when they fled the Democratic Republic of the Congo to escape a violent civil war. Sarah’s father, brother, and all but one sister were killed one night in the heated civil war plaguing the DRC. Unbeknownst to her, Sarah’s mother and sister made it to the U.S., eventually making Colorado their new home, while she found her way to Uganda. Dr. Naomi Leavitt met Sarah while volunteering with a small non-governmental organization in Uganda. Leavitt also serves as an American Red Cross volunteer in the Restoring Family Links (RFL) program in Massachusetts. Knowing that the Red Cross RFL program has successfully reconnected families like Sarah’s, Leavitt stayed in touch with the woman. Sarah had provided Leavitt with key information about her mother and sister that would prove helpful in initiating a Red Cross Family Tracing case: for example, she knew their birthdates and had been told the two had been sponsored to move to the U.S. from their refugee camp.

That trail led to Colorado, where Sarah’s mom had resettled. A Restoring Family Links Red Cross volunteer in Colorado located Sarah’s mother and sister and contacted the mother concerning her long- lost daughter.

“She thought she was dead. It had been 10-plus years since she had seen or talked to her daughter,” said Tim Bothe, International Services Manager for the American Red Cross of Colorado.

In this case, the mother didn’t hesitate to reach out to her daughter in Uganda. She filled out the Red Cross form necessary for establishing communication. The form, which is routinely screened for content, included information on the family members and asked to get in touch. The rest was in the hands of her separated daughter. The form traveled from the a local case worker in Denver to the American National Red Cross in Washington D.C. to the Ugandan Red Cross, to a local case worker and finally, was delivered to her daughter.

Thanks to Leavitt and the other Red Cross volunteers and staff working on this case, communication between a Colorado mother and the daughter she thought to be dead has been restored after 10 years of silence. For the first time, the mother learned she has five grandchildren.

The American Red Cross assists in reconnecting more than 5,000 families in the U.S. and around the world every year through the Restoring Family Links program. There is no charge for the program, its purpose being to locate family members and restore communication. To find out more, visit http:// www.redcross.org/what-we-do/international-services/reconnecting-families .

Sarah in Uganda 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Guest Speaker: How Do Responders Coordinate in the Midst of Disaster Chaos?

Diplomacy can break down. Borders can appear where none existed before. Divisions between cultures, languages and beliefs can push communities apart. But in times of disaster, coordination between nations and organizations is key in preventing unnecessary destruction and keeping people safe from harm. According to Steve Recca, this month’s Red Cross Lunch and Learn speaker and current Humanitarian Assistance Program Advisor with the Pacific Disaster Center, combined efforts between governments, non-governmental agencies and citizens helped prevent the Typhoon Haiyan disaster from wreaking far more damage than it could have.
Steve Recca,
Program Advisor,
Pacific Disaster Center

“The damage and loss of life the typhoon caused were horrible, of course,” said Recca. “But the Filipinos did a great job dealing with it, and international support was well-communicated and capable.”

The response, Recca said, was successful due to its work well in advance of the storm. The Pacific Disaster Center provided information and predictive data in the “off-season” to the Philippine government and international groups. Armed with the PDC’s estimates of a hypothetical typhoon’s path, intensity, rainfall and damage levels, international organizations and local governments coordinated training exercises to prepare for exactly the kind of storm the next typhoon promised to be.

The disaster plans that arose from this multinational effort were tested when Typhoon Haiyan ripped through the Philippines in 2013. The storm, one of the most powerful tropical cyclones on record, ripped through the area and left thousands of casualties and billions of dollars of damage in its enormous, 1200-mile-wide wake.

The Red Cross was one of many agencies that responded. (Read more about ongoing efforts her: http://www.redcross.org/what-we-do/international-services/haiyan)

“When the storm hit, the groups involved had talked together and trained together in advance, so when they came together to respond to the storm, they knew each other and their organizational capabilities,” Recca said. “There is very much a success story there.”

While the PDC’s efforts are tailored for the needs of the Pacific region, Recca said that their coordinated efforts and the tools they’ve developed for disaster response can be useful for anyone wanting to contribute to disaster relief at home and abroad. He encouraged those who attend Wednesday’s talk to explore the PDC’s Web site (www.pdc.org) for information useful for disaster response volunteers, whether they want to help with a storm in the Pacific or a wildfire in the Rocky Mountain foothills.

“The site is really there for anyone who’s wondering, how can the PDC help me be the best volunteer in a disaster event?” he said.

The Lunch & Learn lecture will be presented Wednesday, Aug. 20, from noon to 1 p.m. at the American Red Cross, 444 Sherman St. RSVPs are requested by 12 p.m. Monday, Aug. 18 to Tim Bothe at Tim.Bothe2@redcross.org. Webinar options are also available for remote audiences. For more information, contact Tim Bothe.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Breathing Hope into Dreams of A Family Reunited

By Christina Eyre, Red Cross Volunteer

As I walk up the steps of the church that shares its home with a small but committed Congolese congregation, I’m serenaded by Swahili hymns in three-part harmony. Immediately I feel under-dressed next to women resplendent in tailored kitenge of every color.

The pervasive sense of joy must be reconciled with the reason we’re here. All these people came to the U.S. because Congo’s recent history is one of terrifying civil war, political instability and corruption, and extreme privation. Three of us from the Red Cross Restoring Family Links (RFL) program are here because we can offer a small but very important solace: help reconnecting them with family with whom their ties were severed by the unrest.

After the service, our RFL Casework team (Tim Bothe, Sierra Hutchinson and me) is surrounded by people who tell us about fleeing war and the family they’ve lost. In a little over two hours, we each open five cases. We hear stories about children younger than 12 months old who have been missing for more than 15 years, or families on the verge of finally escaping, only to be shelled before they could board the boats that would’ve borne them away from the war.

Congolese refugees. Photo courtesy of Canadian Red Cross/Gina Holmes
We speak with “June,” a grandmother whose face shows hopeful desperation. Her eyes are filled with a story that no words can ever hope to sufficiently explain. She tells us that she was separated from her family in 1998 when the civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo unleashed unspeakable violence and fear. Her daughter and granddaughter fled an attack on the village, but their path was one that would separate them from their other family members. June, June’s daughter, and June’s grandson fled to Tanzania following the loss of her husband in the fighting. Tanzania would be a place they would call home for over 10 years.

When June resettled to the United States in 2010, she believed that reconnecting with her daughter and granddaughter was almost impossible. However, unrelenting faith can provide glimmers of hope; in 2012, June received a phone call from a longtime friend. The friend was living in Malawi and claimed that she had seen June’s daughter and granddaughter in a UNHCR refugee camp located within the country. The friend informed June that she had three new granddaughters, a great son-in-law, and two great-grandsons. The news was joyful, and a phone number was provided to contact the family members. Unfortunately, the phone number was out of service, and once again, June was left with no means of communicating with her relocated family.

Through our recent involvement with the Congolese church, June learned of our services and eagerly sought to open a tracing case for all eight of her lost loved ones. RFL intends to offer renewed hope in the midst of unresolved grief and uncertainty. Restoring these broken connections takes time; it’s like detective work across continents, and locating individuals among a vast sea of refugees can be challenging. But this is a community that has learned resilience and how to rebuild lives. The same hope that informs their RFL requests gives breath and rhythm to the Swahili hymns in this church. After all, we’re here for the first time—they’re here every Sunday evening.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Hope on Wheels in East Washington

Volunteer Sue Wiseman (left) loads a food
cambro on the ERV with the help of ERV
partner Lew Savik from Montana Red Cross.
Red Cross volunteers are working hard in east Washington as they support the relief efforts for the East Washington Wildfires. Sue Wiseman, from the Western Colorado Chapter, was deployed to be part of the Mass Care team and is a driver for the Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV).

The ERV is used to deliver supplies, water, food and recovery items to people affected by the fires. "We call the ERV "Hope on Wheels"," said Wiseman. "Bringing help and hope is what the Red Cross is all about."

Sue has been a Red Cross disaster responder for many years and the Washington assignment is her ninth large scale disaster response. She knows she is making a difference in the lives of those affected by the wildfires. "You can see relief in their eyes when we pull up with a hot meal and a warm hug," she said.

Since the start of the Red Cross response, workers have provided more than 300 overnight shelter stays; 13,000 meals and snacks and 540 health and mental health services in the community. More than 225 Red Cross disaster responders from throughout Washington and across the country are in Washington to support the wildfire disaster operation.

When asked how long she intended to stay Wiseman said, "I am here to help, however long that takes."