Providing Hope, Globally

You can find a Red Cross or Red Crescent pretty much everywhere around the world. It's possibly the most unique thing about the Red Cross Movement - it is truly global. This universality allows us to transcend and transverse borders, working individually and together to alleviate human suffering.

It is also what positions the Red Cross to provide reconnecting families services. If you are in the United States and you believe your family is in Tanzania, the Red Cross is able to find and reconnect you with your loved ones because we are also in both locations. Families around the world are able to link through a interconnected humanitarian movement.

Throughout this campaign highlighting the Fundamental Principles of the Red Cross Red Crescent, successful reconnection stories have been used to demonstrate the principle in action. Below are three stories offering just a glimpse into the universality of the Red Cross. In them, the reach of the Red Cross spreads from the United States to Ecuador, to Kenya, to Germany and Poland. This ability isn't just about being able to respond globally. For those separated from the ones they love, it's hope - that no matter where conflict, disaster, and migration may have taken their family, the Red Cross is also there, waiting to reconnect them.

A Difficult Choice - When Mechi was a young girl, her parents made the difficult choice to allow a Peace Corps volunteer to adopt her. After decades of not knowing what happened to their little girl, they stumbled upon a newspaper article about her and her adopted mother. Without means of communicating with them directly, they reached out to the Red Cross for help. The entire family is now able to communicate, and hopes to plan a family reunion.

From Kenya, With Love - Restoring Family Links Caseworker, Mark Owens, shares his experience visiting a refugee camp in Kenya. While there, he met two children who had been reconnected with their mother in the United States by the Red Cross. Mark had helped send a picture of their mother along with a hand-written message to them, and as they met, they still clutched tightly to that picture, a symbol both of comfort in knowing their mother was alive and of hope that they may one day be reunited.

Discovering the Fate of his Father - Mike was separated from his father following World War II. He ended up resettling in the United States without ever learning what happened. Decades passed, and at the urging of his own sons, Mike initiated the search to learn the fate of his father. The American Red Cross worked with our counterparts in Poland and Germany, eventually finding documentation on what happened to Mike's father as well as the location of his grave.

Conflict, disaster, and migration separate families, but no matter how long you have been separated, no matter how far away your loved ones are, know that the Red Cross is there to help reconnect. For more information and to start your search today, please visit redcross.org/reconnectingfamilies.

This Week in Restoring Family Links News 11/09/15 - 11/13/15

Do you follow @intlfamilylinks (Restoring Family Links’ account) on Twitter? See an interesting article but just don’t have the time to read it? “This Week in RFL News” is a weekly blog segment that highlights and summarizes some of the news items posted by RFL’s twitter.

Turkish Red Crescent works with kids in Istanbul Community Center, providing them a safe space.

Red Cross Unity: This week we highlighted the Red Cross Fundamental Principle of Unity on the blog. The Principle ensures that each country will only have one Red Cross Red Crescent society, which will be responsible for providing humanitarian services throughout the country’s territory in accordance with the other seven Fundamental Principles. Around the globe, Red Cross Red Crescent Societies are working to alleviate human suffering within their own cultural, historical, and current contexts. Some of the work that was highlighted this week includes distributing relief items to refugees in Serbia, reconnecting separated families in the United States, and supporting refugee children in Turkey.

A man prays after arriving on the island of Kos, Greece. Credit: Daniel Etter for The New York Times

Refugees in Europe: This week, three themes dominated the news we shared regarding refugees and migrants in Europe and the EU’s response: winter preparations, the Valletta conference, and Turkey. As winter fast approaches, many are concerned with the additional humanitarian concerns brought on by colder weather and rougher seas. Previous years have seen a decline in migration during winter months due to these factors, yet the number of those seeking the safety of European shores continues to rise. Winter brings many challenges, but the United Nations has said progress for preparing for winter is on track. One story we shared includes three testimonials from humanitarians working with refugees and preparing for winter.

This week, European and African leaders met in Valletta, Malta to discuss issues of migration, primarily addressing the root causes of migration in African nations and discussing protocol around the return of migrants if they are not granted protection in the European Union. Agreements concerning both issues were reached with European and African leaders committing to address insecurity, poverty and climate change; issues that have fueled the recent exodus. Both sides also agreed “to give preference to voluntary return and reaffirm that all returns must be carried out in full respect of human rights and human dignity.”

In addition to working with African leaders, Europe has also been very focused on reaching a deal with Turkey to help stem the flow of migrants and refugees. In addition to funds to help support refugee camps, the EU has used Turkey’s membership in the European-bloc as a bargaining tool to secure the agreement. While Turkey’s cooperation will certainly aid in relieving some of the pressure currently faced by European nations in meeting the needs of the thousands of refugees within and at their borders, there is worry that closing off this route will just encourage migrants to find more dangerous pathways to Europe. As illustrated by one refugee who took the risk of swimming from Turkey to Greece, the resolve of individuals and families to reach a safe place where they can rebuild their lives is unstoppable.

Unity: Together for Humanity

 Red Cross worker Nieves Alonso is helping migrants reconnect with families in the Restoring Family Links tent at an accommodation camp in Sentilj, Slovenia, close to the Austrian border. John Engedal Nissen, IFRC

Red Cross worker Nieves Alonso is helping migrants reconnect with families in the Restoring Family Links tent at an accommodation camp in Sentilj, Slovenia, close to the Austrian border. John Engedal Nissen, IFRC

The Red Cross Red Crescent Fundamental Principle of Unity can seem simple by name, but complex by definition. At first glance, one may think it urges for cooperation and collaboration between and across the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement. That bi/multi-lateral unity is actually enshrined in the Fundamental Principle of Universality. The Red Cross looks at Unity on an individual level - that there is no more than one society in any given country, that a national society is comprised of and serves everyone in that country regardless of race, gender, political opinion, etc., and that a national society's services are available throughout the territory of its country.

A great example of Unity is the work being done in Europe currently to address the refugee crisis by individual Red Cross societies. They work to meet the needs of those in transit throughout their nation, regardless of who they are. The following story highlights the reconnecting families work of the Red Cross in Slovenia for refugees.

By John Engedal Nissen, IFRC

Round, black glasses, a smile and a chunky brown beard. This is one of the faces that greet many people in a small green tent in an area where thousands of migrants wait to cross the Austrian border just 1km away. Every day, Dominik Raduha, 26, and other volunteers with the Slovenian Red Cross, help people reconnect with their families who they may have lost track with while moving through the Balkans.

“They feel hopeless when they come, so first of all we try to assure them that there is still hope and explain how we  can help them find their family again,” he says.

Wi-Fi and phone calls

The Red Cross team provides a Wi-Fi connection and has cell phones available to allow people to reconnect with their families.

“Many people become separated as they are brought here in different buses, so we are able to solve many of the situations within the camp. We help people to find their relatives, and when they are reunited, they often kiss and hug, because they thought they had lost each other for good,” Raduha says.

Red Cross volunteers also collect information from people to help reunite them with family members later. Recently the society’s tracing service, Restoring Family Links, reconnected a Syrian teenager and his family. While he was in Slovenia, the family continued their journey and reached Sweden. With the assistance of the Red Cross, the family will soon be reunited.

Reuniting a family with their infant

In another case an infant became separated from his family after being treated at the hospital in Serbia.

“For a few nights I had difficulties sleeping because of that, but we recently managed to bring the family together,” says Raduha. “So many of the volunteers had been involved in the case and  they came to witness the reunion.”

Before he started volunteering with Restoring Family Links, he was unsure whether he was cut out for a job working in times of crisis. He now volunteers almost every day, working up to 13 hours each day.

“The tracing service is my priority, but I help with what is needed, which might be taking people to the doctor, distributing food or clothing. I am very busy because there is always something to do. Even though my shift ends at 6pm, I often end up staying till 8 or 9pm,” he says. “It has truly been a positive experience. In a way it is very simple, because I just try to do my best to help.”

For more on the response of the Red Cross Red Crescent in Europe, please click here.

Voluntary Service: A Year in Review and Reflection

Story by Liz Corrigan, Public Inquiry Associate, Washington, DC

While Voluntary Service may seem like the most straight forward of the Red Cross Seven Fundamental Principles, this year the American Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) took a closer look at what it means for our national society and the network as a whole. 

American Red Cross

As a part of our Volunteer Growth Strategy, we asked chapter offices across the country to take a closer look at their volunteer resources, needs and strategy for the coming years.  The idea being, that in order to achieve the goals of the Volunteer Growth Strategy, regions need to understand their current service delivery, additional demand for Red Cross services, and ability to deliver those services to the communities served by the region.        

Volunteer Growth Strategy seeks to:

  • Drive More Mission by Increasing Volunteer Presence
  • Invest more in Volunteers – Increase Resources
  • Improve Volunteer Satisfaction
  • Engage Volunteers in Fundraising

While chapter staff, leadership and volunteers met across the country to develop their volunteer strategy, National Headquarters staff did the same.  In International Services, all 15 units met with their staff to assess volunteer needs. 

This resulted in an additional 6,522 volunteer openings for International Services (6,500 of them belonging to online digital mapping volunteers).  Volunteers are especially crucial for International Services due to our smaller staff presence in the chapter network.  Restoring Family Links for example, depends heavily on volunteers to deliver casework services and conduct outreach to thousands of clients every year.  We could never reconnect this many families without the dedication and hard work of volunteers across the country.          

Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement

Outside of the American Red Cross, Voluntary Service has always been at the heart of the Red Cross movement.  The official principle of “Red Cross as a voluntary relief movement not prompted in any manner by desire for gain” began as far back as Henry Dunant at the Battle of Solferino.  During the battle Henry recruited people from the local area to meet community needs and acted as what today would be called a volunteer manager. 

This year, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies conducted a global review on volunteering. The Global Review on Volunteering was the largest and most thorough review of Red Cross/Red Crescent Volunteering ever undertaken.  600 experts, staff and volunteers were interview or surveyed across 160 countries. 

Today, Red Cross volunteers have moved beyond the battlefield where Solferino began and work in a variety of sectors across the movement and around the world.  Red Cross Red Crescent volunteers serve in health, education and prevention (37 %); disaster response, management and preparedness (26 %); social inclusion (12 %); and general support, e.g. being part of the local branch governance, logistics, administration, communication, IT, Fund-raising, management consultancy and strategic planning (25 %).  

Globally, the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement has more than 17 million volunteers.  While this is an extremely large number, unfortunately the volunteers are concentrated in just a few national societies.  100 out of 198 national societies have just 1% of all volunteers and 11% of the world’s population.  In comparison, 10 National Societies have more than 75% of the volunteers and 50% of the world’s population.  While many National Societies are struggling with volunteerism, In Burundi, 1 in 22 people volunteer with the Red Cross.  If this was replicated in every country, the world would have 320 million Red Cross volunteers. 

The work of the Red Cross Red Crescent would be impossible without the dedication of our volunteers. Learn how you can join our movement by clicking here

Volunteers: The Heart of the Red Cross

The Red Cross is a “voluntary relief movement not prompted in any manner by desire for gain.” So states the Red Cross Red Crescent Fundamental Principle of Voluntary Service. We are an organization driven and fueled by the dedication and passion of volunteers around the globe, from those risking their lives to help those affected by the crisis in Syria to those responding to Ebola and other medical emergencies in West Africa. Similarly, the reconnecting families work of the Red Cross would be impossible without our volunteers.

Every story on the Restoring Family Links Blog is touched in some way by a volunteer. They could be a story's author, or the caseworker behind a successful reconnection; the voice in the community promoting our services, or simply the inspiration behind a story. In honor of our volunteers and the principle of Voluntary Service, we highlight below some of the previously shared stories on the blog about their amazing work and commitment to this Red Cross service.

More than one Reason for Dedication. Nejra Sumic is a volunteer with the Red Cross in Phoenix, Arizona. She was born and raised in the former Yugoslavia. When conflict erupted in the early ‘90s, her father was arrested. However, after a year of terror and tribulation, her father was saved and the family reunited by the International Committee of the Red Cross. It is because of that experience that Nejra gives back to the organization and the program that helped reconnect her family decades ago. Read more of her story here.

Outreach Creates Reconnection. An immensely important role that many Restoring Family Links volunteers fill is outreach; going to the communities we serve and letting them know about our services. In Illinois, Bob Wiltz along with other local volunteers and staff hosted an event for World Refugee Day in coordination with a local partner organization. However, they didn’t just promote the reconnecting families work of the Red Cross, but also provided phones so that refugees who may not have been able to hear the voices of their loved ones in months could talk then and there with their family. Read more about their invaluable outreach work here.

Connecting the Dots. Most of the time, Restoring Family Links casework is not straightforward. We may have a last known address or phone number for someone here in the States, but that still may lead to an extended search in the community. In Los Angeles, volunteers Doug Wiita and Carmela Burke worked with their Casework Supervisor, Kerry Khan, to develop a strategy for locating a sought person in their area. By following leads and taking to heart their role as detective, they worked tirelessly to locate the sought person. Read more about the casework process here.

Delivering a Message. Another aspect of a Restoring Family Links caseworker’s role is supporting our clients in the United States and delivering news to them when we receive updates from other Red Cross Red Crescent National Societies. In Denver, Colorado, Robbe Sokolove worked with a Congolese refugee, Yowali, to initiate a search for her family in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Six months later, Yowali received a hand-written message from her sister, delivered by Robbe. Eventually, the Red Cross was able to reconnect her to all eight of her missing relatives. Read more about their reconnection here.

Our volunteers touch the lives of thousands of families each year. Without them, none of the above stories, or any Red Cross story for that matter, would be possible. Find out how you can volunteer with your local Red Cross by clicking here.