Preparing Migrants and Building Resilient Communities

Following Red Cross Disaster Preparedness and Restoring Family Links training, students show off the Red Cross emergency kits they received at the end of the training. Photo credit: Styliani (Stellina) Giannitsi

Following Red Cross Disaster Preparedness and Restoring Family Links training, students show off the Red Cross emergency kits they received at the end of the training. Photo credit: Styliani (Stellina) Giannitsi

Story by Christian Zazueta, Intern, Denver, Colorado

With the holiday season upon us and as we observe International Migrants Day, I can’t help but reminisce on my family's first few Christmases here in the United States. Having migrated from Mexico, coming to a new country brought many unexpected difficulties.  My second Christmas here is especially memorable for me, but not for all the joyous reasons Christmas is expected to have.

Unable to travel and visit family back home, we had gathered together with friends who had also immigrated to the United States from Mexico. My parents had prepared everything, from the food to the Christmas tree, to places for all our guest to sleep. But with an unpredicted twist, we awoke from a joyous Christmas Eve to a Christmas nightmare.

At dawn, confused and dazed I was awoken by my mother, but not to run to the Christmas tree to open the presents Santa had left me. Instead I was taken in her arms as she desperately tried to balance and carry two half-asleep children frantically out the door. Smoke covered the entire house and all my mother could think of was to get her children out. We stood on the snow covered pavement barefoot and jacketless. Fire trucks came hollering to our home as the men tried to put out the fire in the basement with a garden hose. Despite all of my parents’ preparation, they had never imagined that we would experience a house fire, especially not on Christmas.

No one was hurt, and the damage was minimal, but the traumatic memory will be with us forever.  We did not have fire alarms to warn us. I don’t think it ever crossed my parents’ minds that we would need them as these things were not made aware to them before. Like many immigrant families, these precautionary measures were not part of our reality.

Due to varying reasons, things like fire detectors and knowledge about disaster preparedness were simply not accessible to them back home. Differences in infrastructure, economic status, and accessibility to resources and knowledge in many countries are just a couple of the road blocks. When newly migrating it is difficult to be aware of the many differences and changes needed. It’s not as if you are not given a handbook to help you navigate through all the difficulties that come along. You go on with what you know and what you have and make the best of it.  Due to this, our migrant communities are especially vulnerable to falling victim to these unfortunate, yet preventable events.

At the American Red Cross of Colorado, we have initiated a collaboration in programming and outreach between our Restoring Family Links and Disaster Preparedness departments to provide training and resources to help our migrant communities become more resilient and successful in their new homes.

Lucy Barron shows off her home fire escape plan. Photo credit: Styliani Giannitsi

Lucy Barron shows off her home fire escape plan. Photo credit: Styliani Giannitsi

Recently we have provided training in partnership with Emily Griffith Technical College to 71 of their students, the majority of whom were migrants, refugees, or asylum seekers. At these trainings, appointments are made to conduct a home visit to check and install smoke detectors in their homes.

Remembering what I went through so many Christmases ago, I want to ensure our migrant community is prepared for a home fire and help save their lives through the early warnings that smoke detectors provide.  In December alone, I’ve helped install over 20 smoke detectors.

Our training incorporates information about local disasters and how to be prepared with information on the reconnecting families services of the Red Cross. This service can help them find a loved one gone missing because of conflict or migration, or help them reconnect with family following natural disaster or other humanitarian emergencies.

We look forward to continue this partnership and to continue servicing our migrant communities to provide them with the tools for success and resiliency here in Colorado and Wyoming. This is just one way in which the American Red Cross has answered United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon’s call to “reaffirm our commitment to share diverse and open societies that provide opportunities and lives of dignity for all migrants.”

And so, may we continue to work in innovative ways to provide this support and resources to our migrant communities through our humanitarian services.