Culture at the Forefront | RFL Chicago brings World Refugee Day downtown!

Culture at the Forefront | RFL Chicago brings World Refugee Day downtown!

This year we welcomed returning artist Abraham Mellish, and new artists Azieb Abraha and Lester Rey to the stage. Each brought a really different sound to the event, sharing music with influences from the Caribbean, Ethiopia, and Liberia, blended together with sounds from the Chicago Latin and hip-hop scene. We also had three new art exhibits this year that were set up throughout Daley Plaza for public viewing. Volunteers answered questions and provided resources and information for anyone wanting to learn more about what we do. We also staged ‘WRD Ambassadors’ throughout the Plaza with Refugee Fact Sheets from the Illinois Bureau of Refugee and Immigrant Services, handing out almost all 400 of the copies. The Red Cross had an information tent and was staffed by RFL Intern Tessa Lavdiotis and RFL volunteers Susie Mazaheri and Jemina Shikany. Many people approached our tent with questions about donating blood, and while we directed them appropriately, it provided a great opportunity to educate the public about our Restoring Family Links program and our work around the world. 

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Volleyball Latino: Serving for Humanity

Volleyball Latino: Serving for Humanity

As part of the American Red Cross of Colorado & Wyoming Region’s outreach to the ever growing Latino community, we have been putting in efforts towards innovative ways to become more accessible and involved with our communities. Recently, I became involved with Volleyball Latino as we started up a Red Cross team called the Humanitarian Servers. Volleyball Latino began in 2013 as a fun and interactive fundraising effort for the nonprofit Casa de Paz, which offers free short-term lodging, meals, visits, and transportation to individuals and families affected by migrant detention. 

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When Starting from Scratch, Every Little Thing Helps

When Starting from Scratch, Every Little Thing Helps

When you go on a trip for a week or more, how many bags do you pack? A carry-on? One suitcase? Two?

What if you knew you were packing to travel to a distant land thousands of miles away, never to return home again? Imagine arriving in a foreign country with only what you could fit in one suitcase -- and having to start your life from scratch, including finding a job, enrolling your children in school, and taking care of daily tasks like cooking and caring for your family.

That is the reality facing many refugees who arrive in the United States to be resettled after having fled violence, armed conflict or persecution in their homelands.

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“Looking for a Chance to Survive”: Red Cross Hosts Discussion on Syrian Refugee Crisis

“Looking for a Chance to Survive”: Red Cross Hosts Discussion on Syrian Refugee Crisis

The Red Cross Los Angeles Region International Services brought together four international refugee experts in December for a community forum about the humanitarian crisis taking place in Syria and the plight of Syria’s refugees.

The event, which took place at the Red Cross San Gabriel Pomona Valley Chapter in Pasadena, began with the screening of a new documentary called Flight of the Refugees by Elias Mutar, a Syrian-American filmmaker. Mutar traversed the borders of European nations during 2015 documenting the plight of refugees. The documentary exhibited many powerful images, including families having to cross miles of dirt roads surrounded by minefields in the complete dark, while accompanying children and elderly family members. When asked why they would go through such hardship, one refugee replied “because there is no hope.”

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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.