Restoring Communication after Thirteen Years

Story by Kaitlin Sullivan, Colorado Wyoming Region, Communications Volunteer

Sarah in Uganda

Sarah in Uganda

Local Red Cross workers connected a Colorado mother with her daughter in Uganda after they had been separated for over ten years.

Sarah was separated from her family as a young girl when they fled the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to escape a violent conflict. Sarah’s father, brother, and all but one sister were killed one night in the heated civil war plaguing the DRC. Unbeknownst to her, Sarah’s mother and sister made it to the US, eventually making Colorado their new home, while she found her way to Uganda.

Dr. Naomi Leavitt met Sarah while volunteering with a small non-governmental organization in Uganda. Leavitt also serves as an American Red Cross volunteer in the Restoring Family Links (RFL) program in Massachusetts. Knowing that the Red Cross RFL program has successfully reconnected families like Sarah’s, Leavitt stayed in touch with the woman. Sarah had provided Leavitt with key information about her mother and sister that would prove helpful in initiating a Red Cross Family Tracing case. For example, she knew their birthdates and had been told the two had been sponsored to move to the US from their refugee camp.

That trail led to Colorado, where Sarah’s mom had resettled. A RFL Red Cross volunteer in Colorado located Sarah’s mother and sister and contacted the mother concerning her long- lost daughter.

“She thought she was dead. It had been ten-plus years since she had seen or talked to her daughter,” said Tim Bothe, International Services Manager for the American Red Cross of Colorado.

The mother didn’t hesitate to reach out to her daughter in Uganda. She filled out a form to re-establish communication. The form, which is routinely screened for content, included information on the family members and asked to get in touch. The rest was in the hands of her separated daughter. The form traveled from a local case worker in Denver to the American National Red Cross in Washington DC to the Ugandan Red Cross, to a local case worker there, and finally, was delivered to her daughter.

Thanks to Leavitt and the other Red Cross volunteers and staff working on this case, communication between a mother and the daughter she thought to be dead has been restored after ten years of silence. For the first time, the mother learned she has five grandchildren.

The American Red Cross assists in reconnecting more than 5,000 families in the US and around the world every year through the Restoring Family Links program. There is no charge for the program, its purpose being to locate family members and restore communication. To find out more, please visit the reconnecting families website.

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Home is where the heart is, but a bed wouldn't hurt

Story by Kaitlin Sullivan, Colorado and Wyoming Region, Communication Volunteer

Tina Porter gets the mattresses and housewarming baskets ready to go.

Tina Porter gets the mattresses and housewarming baskets ready to go.

When refugees flee their countries due to persecution, conflict or other life-endangering issues, they often arrive in their new home country with little but the clothes on their backs. They receive a small amount of resettlement assistance, but it doesn't stretch very far.

So the American Red Cross, Lutheran Family Services and American Furniture Warehouse are partnering together to make life a little easier and more welcoming for these refugees who have settled in a strange new land after what is often already a traumatic experience. Earlier this year, the American Red Cross distributed housewarming baskets to relocated refugees who have settled in the Denver-metro area. The 15 baskets contained what Tim Bothe of American Red Cross Colorado & Wyoming calls “standards of care.” The Red Cross housewarming baskets include kitchen utensils, pots and pans, as well as information on how refugees can reconnect with family members through the Red Cross Restoring Family Links program. This program’s services includes tracing which can help locate family members from whom they were separated from as well as Red Cross Messages which foster communication where it may otherwise be impossible.

By assembling these baskets, the Red Cross is supplementing the assistance provided by Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains, a refugee resettlement agency that helps families set up a new household in Colorado. When a refugee family is resettled to the US, Lutheran Family Services is summoned at a moment’s notice to provide assistance, despite given little information about the incoming refugees until they have arrived in Denver. Along with providing their own set of services, Lutheran Family Services also delivers the housewarming baskets to the newly arrived refugees.

Tina Porter, Red Cross, and Horace from Lutheran Social Services

Tina Porter, Red Cross, and Horace from Lutheran Social Services

American Furniture Warehouses is the third partner in the refugee settlement project. The company has donated 20 mattresses to refugee families through this partnership.

On average, nearly 2,000 refugees are relocated to Colorado each year. Efforts such as housewarming baskets filled with “standards of care” and a donation of mattresses are the gestures that help these people overcome the trauma they've experienced and turn over a new leaf in the Centennial State.

Local Youth Help Prepare Nepali Refugee Community

Nepali Outreach.JPG

Story by Kaitlin Sullivan, Colorado and Wyoming Region, Communication Volunteer

 On the last Saturday of September, seven George Washington High School students led a preparedness event for 15 Nepali refugees who are influential in their communities.

The three George Washington Youth Club leaders, seniors Hannah Walker, Claire Baker and Sadie Van Vranken, reflected on last week’s event with their American Red Cross Youth Programs Manager.

Community leaders were asked to attend the event led by the George Washington Red Cross Youth Club. It is hoped that these respected individuals will disseminate the information throughout the Nepali refugee community. 

The event took place at Hidden Brook apartments in Denver as a collaboration between Hope Communities, Colorado Africa Organization and the George Washington Red Cross Youth Club. Some of the residents at Hidden Brook were evacuated during last month’s flood, many of who do not speak English. Unable to access news in a language they understood, these families and individuals faced unique struggle. Many were left in the dark when seeking information on the national disaster that swept through their new home.

Organizers utilized interpreters at the preparedness event. The crowd, primarily adult refugees, engaged in the presentation and related the information to past experiences. “They talked about a fire in their refugee camp and that really brought our message home for them,” Van Vranken said.

Before beginning their presentation, the student leaders surveyed the room, asking if any of the attendees had participated in a preparedness event before; when one man raised his hand and confirmed that he had attended a Red Cross preparedness event in Nepal, the students said “it really confirmed what we were doing was worthwhile.”

As an official American Red Cross Youth Club, “We’re part of a bigger movement,” Walker said.

The George Washington Red Cross Club was initially formed to fulfill an  International Baccalaureate (IB) Community Action Service project requirement. IB programs work to help students develop a well-rounded skill set that will help them live, learn, work and promote peace in our rapidly globalizing world.

Approximately 20 members strong, the group is always looking for dedicated students to join the club. Prospective upcoming events include preparedness events for Burmese and Ethiopian refugees as well as a blood drive.

Story originally posted on the Colorado and Wyoming Region Blog.