Hope After 20 years of Separation

By The American Red Cross


It had been 20 years since Fidele* last spoke to his father. He lost contact with him as a teenager after he fled war in his home country of Burundi. Unsure of his father’s fate in the war, Fidele reached out to the Red Cross chapter in southern Arizona in hopes that someone could help him find his father. Using the information provided by Fidele, Elissa Maish, a dedicated Red Crosser, worked diligently with the RFL team and global Red Cross and Red Crescent societies to help find his father. 

“Having listened to all the wars he had been through, I held out little hope that we would actually be able to find his father,” Maish remembered. “Amazingly, six months later, I received a phone call and I heard a gentleman on the other end of the line saying, 'Fidele, my son, my son!'" 

Eight years has passed since Fidele was able to hear his father’s voice for the first time. For Fidele, being able to call and speak to his father brought happiness and gave him the closure he desperately needed.

Since 2010, Maish and Fidele have teamed together to achieve the Red Cross’s Restoring Family Links (RFL) mission: helping families trace and reconnect with loved ones separated by international conflict, disaster or migration. 


*Name has been changed to protect privacy.

Red Cross restores family bonds in Puerto Rico


Hurricane Maria left millions of people without electricity, resulting in limited connectivity throughout Puerto Rico. Consequently, large swathes of people had no means of letting their family members know that they were alright or if they needed help.

As part of disaster response, the American Red Cross has been working to reunite families thanks to a portable satellite dish known as VSAT. This satellite program offers free WiFi so users can connect with their families by accessing social media. The satellite is part of the family reunification program known as Safe & Well which finds creative ways to reunite families after a disaster.

After Hurricane Maria hit, Fátima Haram, 66, and her husband Abdelrahman Salem, 72, were left without any means to communicate with the outside world. Both of Arabic nationality, they have been living in Puerto Rico for five years, and this was the first time they had lost communication with their loved ones.

Tears of joy spilled over when Fátima managed to communicate with her daughter, who lives in Europe. She connected to her using the free internet signal set up in La Revolución Plaza, Lares by the Safe & Well program of the American Red Cross.

Between hugs and tears, Fátima and Abdelrahman thanked the Red Cross for helping them establish long-distance communication and for the free internet service.

Red Crosser delivers in Puerto Rico: “I wasn’t gonna let her down”

By National Capital Region, American Red Cross


“I was in Patron, Morovis, Puerto Rico and this little old lady comes up to me and starts patting me on the chest and talking in Spanish,” remembers John Hendricks, a Red Cross volunteer from Detroit, Michigan serving in Puerto Rico for the Hurricane Maria relief effort. His voice is raspy from camping out in the mountains with his Red Cross team delivering water filters to the most remote communities, house by house. “I said to her, ‘I’m a gringo, I don’t speak Spanish,’ but I got one of my teammates to translate for me.” John’s eyes get misty. His translator said, “She is patting your chest because she saw you in the mountains and she loves your heart.”

John was touched by Rosa Maldonado Ortiz’s gesture and, with translation assistance, learned more about her situation. At 87 years old, she lost part of her house during the hurricane. Three of her grandchildren live upstairs in her home. Like most homes on the highlands of Puerto Rico, there is no running water and families collect water from mountain springs. Mrs. Ortiz happily accepted a high-volume Sawyer water filter, one of 13,000 (and counting!) units Red Cross volunteers have placed into the hands of the most isolated Puerto Ricans. The training she received on its use will help her keep her family safe from bacteria, viruses and toxins. However, she desperately needed tarps to keep out the seasonal downpours, she told John. He promised to return.

When John went to the closest Red Cross warehouse, all the tarps had been distributed and the next shipment had not yet arrived. “I wasn’t gonna let her down, so I went to Home Depot and bought her tarps,” John says in his matter-of-fact, Middle America style. “When I took her the tarps, she told me she needed a cat.” Mrs. Ortiz was worried about the increasing number of rats, mice and the diseases they might transmit to her grandchildren. 

As it so happens, an abandoned kitten was rescued on a relief distribution in Juana Diaz during a thunderstorm. “We couldn’t leave the kitten there in a downpour, so we took it to a veterinarian,” said Leo Taraborrelli. “The vet estimated it was born about the time that Hurricane Irma came through.” When John told Leo about Mrs. Ortiz, he gladly offered up the rescued kitten to the cause. After all, as Red Cross volunteers, they have been working 15-hour days and are mostly away from their shelter. This way, the kitten would be in a home with children to love him.

Later that night, John and Leo made a special trip back to Patron, Morovis to Mrs. Ortiz’s home with the cat. “I’m so happy, thank you!” said Mrs. Ortiz. Red Cross responders, like John and Leo, continue their emergency relief efforts in Puerto Rico with a strong sense of urgency due to sustained damage to critical infrastructure like water and electricity. Red Cross teams continue distributing water filters in rural areas as a longer-term solution to the lack of access to clean water.



Pakistan: Stranded in Somalia, fishermen finally return home


ICRC and PRCS help reunited families of fishermen separated for months. CC BY-NC-ND / ICR

ICRC and PRCS help reunited families of fishermen separated for months. CC BY-NC-ND / ICR

A fisherman himself, 88-year-old Jamal knew that the seas could be unpredictable. So, when his son Ali, who had left with six other fishermen, did not return around the expected date, Jamal did not immediately panic. But he grew worried when weeks turned into months and the family could not establish any contact with their son.

Joined in their grief, the other six families shared the agony that Jamal felt. The seven fishermen, stranded in Somalia after their boat capsized, were helpless as they couldn't send a message home, despite knowing that their families must be agonizing over their disappearance. The fishermen belonged to far-flung coastal areas in Balochistan and Sindh, where fishing is the mainstay.

“We did not even know if our son was alive!” said Zafar, the father of another fisherman. This deadly silence finally broke with a phone call facilitated by the ICRC and Somali authorities.

The ICRC came in contact with the stranded fishermen in Kismayo, Somalia, as part of the humanitarian work there. At the request of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Pakistan, the process of repatriating the seven fishermen to Pakistan was initiated and arranged by the ICRC in coordination with the Somali authorities.



The families finally reunited on 20 October 2017. Anxiety gave way to tears of joy and relief at the Karachi and Islamabad airports as the loved ones embraced each other. The families travelled to Karachi and Islamabad with the support of the Pakistan Red Crescent Society (PRCS) and the ICRC. “Returning home seems so surreal; it feels like we are in heaven,” said Salim, one of the fishermen.

The ICRC strives to connect people who have been separated from their families due to natural disasters, migration or violence. Where possible, we help them reunite with their families. As part of the Restoring Family Links (RFL) programme, the ICRC works closely with PRCS to facilitate this process. Earlier this year, seven other Pakistani fishermen stranded in Yemen were repatriated and reunited with their families in Pakistan after more than a decade of separation. To learn more about RFL, please visit www.familylinks.icrc.org.

Find out more about the ICRC’s work in Somalia

Names have been changed to protect their identity.

Equipping the Red Cross with the Resources it Needs: A Q&A with our Partner Grainger

By American Red Cross

Red Cross partners like Grainger help us instill hope to individuals and families nationwide. We sat down with Fred Costello, vice president and president, Grainger International, to find out why his organization has partnered with us for more than a decade.


1. What inspired Grainger to support the Red Cross?


The nature of our business is to help our customers keep their operations running and people safe, and for 90 years, Grainger has also embraced a spirit of volunteerism and philanthropy. That combination makes us a natural leader in disaster preparedness and response, and as a result, we have had long and productive partnership with the Red Cross.

2. How does Grainger support the Red Cross through the Annual Disaster Giving Program and any other programs?

The same way Grainger provides support to its customers and suppliers in the event of an emergency, we support the Red Cross through the Annual Disaster Giving Program (ADGP) and equip the Red Cross with the resources it needs to respond before, during and after a natural disaster.

Since 2001, Grainger has donated nearly $17 million in cash and product to the Red Cross, and currently serves as a $1 million Red Cross ADGP supporter. As part of this support, $400,000 in product was donated last year after the Louisiana floods and Hurricane Matthew, and five Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicles (ERVs) – which get help to people in need after disasters big and small – have been co-branded with the Grainger logo to demonstrate our disaster relief commitment. This year, Grainger committed an additional $250,000 worth of product donations including gloves, shovels, dust masks, trash bags, brooms and more for recent relief efforts in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. Grainger also hosted Missing Maps activities with our team members at two office locations aimed at supporting disaster relief efforts in Puerto Rico.



In addition to natural disaster relief, Grainger team members have coordinated various blood drives for colleagues to give blood and volunteered to support activities during Disaster Preparedness Month in September. Team members also supported the Red Cross Home Fire Prevention Campaign for which we have donated approximately 70,000 smoke alarms since 2014.

3. How have your employees and customers gotten involved to support a disaster relief effort in the last year?



Our team members are an important part of our partnership with the Red Cross. Whether it’s through the more than 1,700 team members who have been trained as Ready When the Time Comes volunteers, or team members who helped pack 2,100 comfort kits for survivors of the recent hurricanes and wildfires still residing in shelters; participated in Missing Maps activities; or used our 3:1 Charitable Matching Gifts program to maximize personal cash contributions to the Red Cross, our team members have been instrumental in helping support Red Cross relief efforts this year.

4. Why is it important for your organization to support Red Cross disaster relief efforts?

Our Red Cross partnership has given our team members a means by which to unite to support a single organization’s mission and purpose. As a company, it is important for us to collaborate to resolve issues or concerns for our customers, team members and the community. The Red Cross partnership allows us to use our many resources – human, expertise and in-kind – to support local communities when they need us most.

5. How have you personally benefited from your contribution to the Red Cross?

I’m proud to have served on the Red Cross board since 2016, through which I’ve partnered with other board members from other companies to help the agency refine and drive its strategy and mission. I have the incredible opportunity to see first-hand the difference the Red Cross makes in local communities before, during and after a disaster strikes. Personally, I’ve benefited from knowing our support of this organization is important to the community and survivors of disasters that are experienced by so many. I’m also grateful to Grainger for valuing this partnership and supporting my continued work with the organization.

6. Is there a disaster response that stands out for your company that involved support from your organization?

This year, we saw an unprecedented number of natural disasters occur within a short period of time.  I’m proud of all of our team members who worked around the clock to help support the various relief efforts. In the face of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, two major earthquakes in Mexico and the wildfires in California, Grainger team members pulled together and worked to serve our customers, colleagues and communities as they dealt with the effects.