This Week in Restoring Family Links News 11/29/2014-12/05/2014

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.

 Syrian refugees protesting in Athens. About three hundred men, women and children have been on the same spot for over a week now, demanding that they be granted permission to move on to other European countries. Credit: Apostolis Fotiadis/IPS

Syrian refugees protesting in Athens. About three hundred men, women and children have been on the same spot for over a week now, demanding that they be granted permission to move on to other European countries. Credit: Apostolis Fotiadis/IPS

Syrian refugees: As the Syrian Civil War rages on, those displaced by the conflict continue to face a variety of experiences and obstacles in receiving the assistance and protection they deserve depending on the location to which they have fled. A few weeks ago, hundreds of refugees were rescued from the Mediterranean Sea and taken to Cyprus. Because many of the asylum seekers were hoping to reach Western Europe where they already have family members and economic conditions are better, most have not registered with the Cypriot government as refugees, effectively leaving them in limbo. Similar circumstances are faced by refugees in Greece, where hundreds of Syrians are protesting not being allowed to leave the country in order to avoid Greece's slow asylum processes and xenophobia. For those who have reached Western European nations, such as Germany, experiences have been mixed with some facing resistance from local communities and others being welcomed with open arms as they struggle through long (though expedited) asylum processes.

In Syria and its neighboring countries, humanitarian organizations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), continue to provide assistance to the displaced. In Jordan, the ICRC has started looking towards the future and began educating Syrians about the dangers of unexploded bombs and other remnants of war. In Syria itself, the ICRC continues to work across frontlines to provide lifesaving aid for civilians still living within conflict zones. Unfortunately, a lack of donor funding has left many organizations, such as the United Nations, to limit their humanitarian assistance programs. In Lebanon, the UN has been forced to suspend food aid because of the funding shortage.

 A girl from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing the violence in the Iraqi town of Sinjar, rests at the Iraqi-Syrian border crossing in Fishkhabour, Dohuk province, Aug. 13, 2014. Credit: Youssef Boudlal/Reuters

A girl from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing the violence in the Iraqi town of Sinjar, rests at the Iraqi-Syrian border crossing in Fishkhabour, Dohuk province, Aug. 13, 2014. Credit: Youssef Boudlal/Reuters

Iraq: As the Syrian Civil War continues to have regional impacts, it is difficult to talk about Syria without also mentioning the conflict in Iraq. This week, the International Organization for Migration reported that Iraq’s displaced population has surpassed two million people. In a meeting with the Canadian Parliament, one of Iraq’s own Parliamentarians called on the international community to provide more humanitarian assistance for those affected by the conflict. The Red Cross Movement has been very active in helping Iraq's displaced populations, and even while addressing the humanitarian needs of its own people, the Iraqi Red Crescent continues to help Syrian refugees within its borders.

International Volunteer Day: As voluntary service is a fundamental principle of the Red Cross Movement, the work of Red Cross Red Crescent societies around the globe could not be done without the dedication of volunteers. Working at the National Headquarters for the American Red Cross, I am continually amazed by the commitment of our volunteers around the globe whether it is those putting their life on the line to provide aid to those affected by conflict in Syria and Iraq or the volunteers here in Washington, DC, dedicating hours and days of their time to help alleviate human suffering by reconnecting loved ones separated by conflict, disaster, and migration. For this year’s International Volunteer Day, the blog recognized several of the volunteers at American Red Cross National Headquarters. I would like to again, express my sincere gratitude for their voluntary service and all those around the globe who dedicate their time helping others whether it is with the Red Cross or another organization assisting local and global communities.

Spreading the Light through Volunteerism

  "Founded on the values of solidarity and mutual trust, volunteerism transcends all cultural, linguistic and geographic boundaries. By giving their time and skills without expectation of material reward, volunteers themselves are uplifted by a singular sense of purpose." Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Message for the International Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development 5 December 2012

"Founded on the values of solidarity and mutual trust, volunteerism transcends all cultural, linguistic and geographic boundaries. By giving their time and skills without expectation of material reward, volunteers themselves are uplifted by a singular sense of purpose." Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Message for the International Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development 5 December 2012

Story by Nadia Kalinchuk, National Headquarters, Caseworker and Outreach Coordinator

Happy International Volunteers Day to all volunteers and the staff fortunate to work with them!  Today, and throughout the week, we have celebrated this internationally recognized day of observance designated by the United Nations by highlighting the work of our volunteers.  This day offers an opportunity for volunteer organizations, like the American Red Cross, to share the work done by international volunteers to promote social and economic development. 

On this very special International Volunteer Day, I have the honor of highlighting the work of a passionate, committed volunteer who works at the American Red Cross, Yadira Rodriguez. Having moved from Colorado, where she worked with the International Services team at the American Red Cross chapter in Denver, she had set her sights on working with the team at National Headquarters before even relocating to DC.  Joining the Restoring Family Links outreach team here a mere few months ago, Yadira has already undertaken initiatives to enhance outreach to vulnerable populations. 

As a native of Colombia, and a recent graduate of the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver, Yadira has applied her skills and knowledge of reaching out to underserved populations by examining the family linking needs of local migrant and refugee populations.  Yadira is a natural collaborator and looks for opportunities to learn from her environment, reaching out to the community, mentors, headquarters staff and the local chapter to gather a fully grounded perspective.  With such an active and engaged volunteer working on these focused outreach efforts, we feel very fortunate and sure that more people in need will learn about the reconnecting families services of the Red Cross.

In addition to these efforts, Yadira has contributed immensely to the development of outreach materials, providing translation as needed, and going even further in this by recruiting and identifying local volunteers who can provide translation on an ongoing basis.  She leads the Spanish translation efforts in the office, managing the flow of the work, dispatching, tracking and communicating the progress of documents.  This invaluable coordination allows us to provide effective communication to beneficiaries and partners in the Americas region.

Each day, at the American Red Cross we are fortunate to be in contact with volunteers.  At the heart of each volunteer is a desire to make a difference in the world around them.  This desire to make the world a better place is something that I relate to spreading light.  Edith Wharton wrote, “There are two ways of spreading light - to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”  On this International Volunteers Day, I am very thankful for the volunteers we encounter every day, the many hands that make light work and their desire to spread light to serve the most vulnerable.  Thank you, Yadira for all you do.

Volunteer Champions Restoring Family Links Program Nationally and Locally

Story by Tiffany Cambridge-Williams, National Headquarters, Program Assistant

I would like to take the time to offer our sincerest thanks and appreciation to Viviana Cristian, our casework and outreach volunteer.  Viviana started with the Restoring Family Links team at National Headquarters back in October 2013 and has been a trailblazer for the program ever since.  Not only is she a headquarters volunteer but she is also a lead volunteer for the Restoring Family Links program and the Disaster Action Team for the Red Cross National Capital Area Region in Silver Spring, MD.  

In November 2013, the Restoring Family Links program experienced one of its largest caseload influxes after Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines.   Viviana’s determination and compassion shown through.  She assisted the Silver Spring office in running a call center to ensure that the separated families were able to get the assistance they needed to reconnect with their loved ones.  With her assistance, we were able to process approximately 800 cases, in which the vast majority of families were reconnected.

Viviana has benefited our program by improving coordination efforts between the local chapter and national headquarters.  She has assisted in planning and carrying out several events for both entities, of particular note:  World Red Cross Day and World Refugee Day.

Viviana worked to coordinate four World Refugee Day events for both the local chapter and national headquarters. In this role she acted as a liaison between the chapter, national headquarters and several refugee resettlement agencies in the local community including the Ethiopian Community Development Council and International Rescue Committee. Thanks to her efforts, all four of the events went off without a hitch and were a huge success. 

Viviana is currently helping both National Headquarters and the Silver Spring chapter plan the upcoming World Red Cross Day on May 8, 2015. In the past, her involvement with the event has been a crucial aspect of its success. For this year’s event, she has already been a huge help in meeting with representatives from the chapter and headquarters to arrange the logistics and begin plans for an excellent celebration highlighting the global impact of the American Red Cross. 

Viviana’s hard work and dedication has also aided us in building our outreach efforts and making the processing of casework more efficient.  She is always looking for ways to assist and get involved in all aspects of the program.  In April of this year, she became a Restoring Family Links instructor out of a desire to increase the Restoring Family Links service delivery capacity in her chapter.

We are lucky to have such a passionate, personable and committed volunteer.  Viviana has shown time and again that she is devoted not only to the Restoring Family Links program but to the American Red Cross as a whole. 

Restoring Family Links Through Volunteer Dedication

Story by Lisa Ghali, National Headquarters, Caseworker for Europe and Asia

Working for the Red Cross has given me the opportunity to interact with people from diverse backgrounds and a wide range of life experiences. After dedicating the last nine years to the Red Cross mission, I can honestly say I’m still amazed at the commitment and effort of our devoted volunteers. From the time I worked at the local chapter to here at the national office, I have watched these wonderful people give their lives to alleviating the suffering of those in need. For this year’s International Volunteer Day, I would like to wholeheartedly thank three volunteers with the Restoring Family Links (RFL) program, who through the years have exemplified the Red Cross Fundamental Principle of Volunteer Service. Betsy Amin-Arsala, Annie Werbinsky and Leslie Cartier, my hat is off to you. Thank you.

Betsy Amin-Arsala worked for the Red Cross long before I arrived and can always be relied upon to reveal the historical knowledge of our program.  She is able to answer questions that no one else can with a lively and generous spirit. Betsy’s investigative and research abilities enable us to locate and reconnect families across the nation and around the world. 

We also benefit from Betsy’s travels as she provides cultural insights through her storytelling, which always captivates the Restoring Family Links team. Once, Betsy invited the entire RFL unit to her home to teach us how to sew. Rather than paying attention to my stitching, I found myself wrapped in the details of her times living in Afghanistan! Betsy’s a lifer, meaning that she has made the commitment throughout her life to the Red Cross mission.

Annie Werbinsky has also dedicated her life to volunteerism, even when she was working full time. When I asked her why, she looked at me in disbelief and said “of course, it is always important to give back to society.” Annie began volunteering with the Red Cross in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, monitoring and evaluating how we provided services. From there, Annie worked with the Historical Tours program and the Safe and Well unit, making her a perfect fit for RFL.

Annie wholeheartedly brought a wealth of information from our counterparts and immediately engaged in the effort to reconnect separated families. I remember once we went to the National Archives to look at old Red Cross documents and Annie seemed right at home buried in the records and coordinating with our colleagues. Her attention to detail and great compassion is illustrated in her work consistently finding and reconnecting family members. 

Leslie Cartier had been a volunteer at the Holocaust and War Victims Tracing Center in Baltimore, Maryland when it transitioned to the Restoring Family Links unit at National Headquarters. At the beginning of the transition, Leslie and I were introduced. We realized we recognized each other’s names from when I worked on WWII cases at the local level in New York! Our mutual dedication to the program was apparent and we quickly went about collaborating with each other on reconnecting families separated by various humanitarian crises. 

Leslie sometimes seems like a hard working ghost, because she is able to get work done without actually being in the office! Leslie is RFL’s first virtual volunteer, dedicating countless hours to the RFL mission from her home in Florida. She has strong research skills with a knack for finding information and people when all others have hit a dead end.

Leslie and I had a conversation the other day when we were figuring out how long we had been collaborating on casework. She said, “I’ve worked for you since the Center closed.” I immediately responded, “No, Leslie, we have been volunteer partners since then.” This is what I think of all the volunteers who dedicate their time to working for the Red Cross. They are our partners in a mission and critical to the success of the Red Cross Movement. Each year, thousands of families are reconnected because of the compassion and dedication of volunteers across the US and around the globe. For this year’s International Volunteer Day, I would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to these three volunteers as well as every volunteer that makes reconnecting families possible.