Restoring Family Links for Refugees in Chicago

Story by Amisha Sud, Greater Chicago Region, Communications Volunteer

Red Cross Health Services volunteer, Nancy Brooks-Edison, with Haraj Gulbahar and her great-grandson from Malaysia.

Red Cross Health Services volunteer, Nancy Brooks-Edison, with Haraj Gulbahar and her great-grandson from Malaysia.

World Refugee Day event was celebrated on June 20 worldwide but not many of us probably realized this and went about our usual daily activities of work, school or doing chores. But one day can hold a different meaning for refugees who are forced to flee their homes overnight because of war, natural disaster, violence and other humanitarian emergencies. World Refugee Day celebrates and honors the courage and determination of these men, women and children as they are displaced from their homes to seek safety and shelter.

The American Red Cross joined several other humanitarian and refugee resettlement agencies to bring a day of fun and play for refugees who have seen unimaginable conditions of living. The American Red Cross supported the event by playing a significant role in providing health and safety resources to all refugees in attendance. They joined their resources with other agencies present to support this occasion which was marked with a soccer tournament, ethnic music and food, juggling classes and a soccer skills training for children, women’s potting, in addition to other activities.

Attendee Gihan Ismail holds an Emergency First Aid Kit given by the Red Cross

Attendee Gihan Ismail holds an Emergency First Aid Kit given by the Red Cross

Red Cross Health Services volunteer Nancy Brooks-Edison was at hand to provide first aid and other health support to players in the tournament. The rest of the Chicago Red Cross team handed out emergency preparedness kits to all refugee families. The team had also come prepared to guide them about keeping their families safe in emergencies through pictographic flyers which was written in 7 languages -- Arabic, Burmese, French ,Somali, Spanish, English and Kinyarwanda --  and graphically conveyed our messages to several refugees with varied language needs.

Besides being the largest humanitarian organization in the world, not many might know that the Red Cross also provides its support to refugees all over the world in another very significant way. Through Restoring Family Links, the Red Cross helps put separated refugee families in touch with each other in cases where they are separated by war or natural disaster. American Red Cross caseworkers around the U.S. help families locate missing relatives by working with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Red Cross and Red Crescent organizations in nearly every country around the world. Annually the American Red Cross assists more than 5,000 families trying to reconnect with their loved ones in the U.S. and around the world.  

The Red Cross provides these services in addition to Red Cross Messages (RCMs) which are personal written communications sent between family members separated by conflict or disaster and have no other means of communication.

Red Cross volunteer, Amisha Sud, stands beside a painting by refugee Amal Alsandok.

Red Cross volunteer, Amisha Sud, stands beside a painting by refugee Amal Alsandok.

The other agencies present at the event were RefugeeOne, World Relief, Heartland Alliance, ICIRR, Pan African Association, the Bhutanese Community Association of Illinois, Exodus World Service, Catholic Charities, and more. It was remarkable was to see the different cultures coming together breaking all barriers and sharing their stories. One beautiful story came from Amal Alsandok. Arriving in the United States two years ago with her husband and daughter from Jordan, Amal was firm on supporting her family on her own. With the help of Uruk Human Services, an agency empowering women from the Middle East and beyond, Amal was able to take her 15 year passion for painting and turn it into a small yet flourishing business of handicrafts, candles and paintings. Her story is no different than young Kemso Cuota’s who is about to graduate from high school and extremely enthusiastic about starting college next year. Kemso, who came from Ethopia with her brother and mother last May, wants to pursue the field of science and has dreams of becoming a doctor.

This event was one of the many ways that the Red Cross supports the refugee community and seeks to provide restoring family links services. Since World Refugee Day, the Red Cross has continued its partnership with the Chicagoland refugee resettlement agencies. This coming school year, the Red Cross will facilitate a Community Safety Days training series with both a pregnancy group and a parenting group that is held for refugee women. The local RFL team will also have the opportunity to present on program services to casework managers from the local refugee resettlement agencies.