South Sudanese Red Cross Volunteers: Dedicated to the cause despite personal loss

South Sudanese Red Cross Volunteers: Dedicated to the cause despite personal loss

Stories and photos are from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). 

Thousands of people were forced to flee their homes at the end of June when fighting broke out in Wau, South Sudan. Many of those were South Sudan Red Cross volunteers, but that hasn't stopped them from working around the clock to help others in need.

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Red Cross Month and Reconnecting Families

Red Cross Month and Reconnecting Families

Did you know March is Red Cross Month? Every year since Franklin D. Roosevelt declared the first Red Cross month in March of 1943, each U.S. President has dedicated March to recognizing the role of the American Red Cross in serving communities across the United States and around the globe (read Obama's proclamation here). From responding to local disasters, to installing fire alarms in homes, to providing life-saving skills such as CPR and first-aid to communities, the Red Cross works through the dedication and commitment of volunteers to alleviate human suffering.

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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.

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.