Story and photography by Cayce Baierski, Central Valley Region, Preparedness Coordinator & AmeriCorp NPRC Member
The American Red Cross Central Valley Region proudly provides disaster relief, emergency preparedness education, service to the Armed Forces, and courses in health & safety to seven counties in California’s San Joaquin Valley. As of last weekend, and just in time for World Refugee Day, they can also add Restoring Family Links (RFL) to their list of services.
Restoring Family Links is service of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) that reconnects families who have been separated internationally due to disaster, migration or other circumstances. Having this program both locally and globally greatly benefits refugees around the world who have already gone through many challenges in their lives and, on top of those challenges, have found themselves separated from their family.
To quote the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), World Refugee Day was established by the United Nations to honor the courage, strength and determination of women, men and children who are forced to flee their homes under threat of persecution, conflict and violence. There are millions of refugees around the world. In honor of them and their fortitude, the Central Valley Region is proud to finally have the ability to lend a helping hand and ease some of the hardship in their lives.
Bringing the RFL program to the region is important not just for World Refugee Day, but for every day. The Central Valley is made up of a multitude of ethnic groups. 50% of the region is of a race other than White. After English, Spanish and Hmong are the most widely spoken language. Out of a population of 2.3 million, 700,000 people speak Spanish and 4,200 speak Hmong. Having an active RFL program in the Central Valley will provide a broader range of services to people within our diverse region.
Even within the Central Valley Red Cross, we have several volunteers and staff who can identify first hand with how it feels to be separated from their families. Some have come to America as refugees to escape armed conflict or leave behind tense political situations; and everyone came because of the promise of a better life. It takes a devastating toll on people when they do not know the fate of a family member. Oftentimes the unknown is more agonizing than the truth. As anyone in the RFL network can attest to, there is an extraordinary relief found in learning the fate of a loved one after months, years or decades of no contact.
Thanks to a generous grant from American Red Cross National Headquarters, the Central Valley Region was able to train their first 12 RFL Caseworkers over the weekend, with some driving up to 2 hours to attend the class. The enthusiasm of this group was infectious. They are eager to start building this new program by working as a team to provide constructive outreach. With good outreach, we hope to reach people who need our services. The success of a RFL Caseworker is surmised by the amount of compassion and determination they hold, and this newly formed team of caseworkers is full of it.
World Refugee Day is an opportunity to reflect on the people you have in your life as well as a time to provide a spark of hope for those who may be less fortunate because of the distance and uncertainty created by conflict and political instability. That is what being an RFL Caseworker is all about.
There is no better way to show compassion and support for people across the globe and within our region than to bring the Restoring Family Links program to the Central Valley on the eve of World Refugee Day.
Congratulations to our first RFL Casework team:
Cayce Baierski, Debby Dailey, Drew Rosado, Jackie Dickinson, John Ortiz, John Supino, Kevin Matsuyama, Linda Benjamin, Mark Bryson, Michael Lam, Patty Dunn, and Tiffany Tryon.
Many thanks to RFL Mentor, Mike Farrar, for making the drive to Fresno and teaching the RFL Casework course to us.
A video from the day can also be found here.