Story by Ann Kelly, International Services Volunteer, Washington, DC
World Refugee Day is an opportunity to raise awareness of refugee issues while also celebrating the strength and resilience of refugee communities across the US and the world. This year, the American Red Cross in the National Capital Region has participated in two World Refugee Day celebrations, with another one to come on June 26th. After months of planning, the first celebration occurred on June 9th at the Silver Spring Civic Center in Maryland.
A collaboration of the Ethiopian Community Development Council, Lutheran Social Services, and Montgomery County, MD hosted the event, which included booths for local refugee artisans to sell their works and for local agencies working with refugees to provide resources, as well as children’s activities. The program for the day featured refugee voices, government officials, lively performances from local international groups, and presentations from the American Red Cross about its Restoring Family Links Program.
The Restoring Family Links (RFL) program had a prominent place at the event, where we set up a display that featured our services as well as “phone booths” where attendees had the opportunity to call family overseas free of charge. In addition to RFL brochures, we distributed Red Cross pens and stress reliever squeeze balls, which were popular with both young and old alike. To add excitement, we had an hourly door prize drawing for Red Cross Blackout Buddy emergency lights and first aid kits.
We spent the day talking to attendees about how the Red Cross helps refugees and other communities with ties abroad reconnect when they are separated or lose connection because of disaster or other humanitarian emergencies. We also provided them the opportunity to open their own case and had a sign-up sheet if they wanted to talk to a caseworker at the Chapter office. Volunteers from the Chapter and National Headquarters joined the celebration in support of the local refugee community.
The following Saturday, June 13th, the Red Cross attended a luncheon event organized for the clients of Lutheran Social Services (LSS) at their local Falls Church, Virginia headquarters. Many of the clients provided testimonies about how LSS helped them resettle in the area and integrate into the local community. The American Red Cross was also able to present on our reconnecting families services. The highlight of the afternoon was a group featuring Middle Eastern music and fronted by a dancer, who at the end of her performance engaged the attendees—both adults and children—in learning the steps.
Last Friday, we celebrated World Refugee Day with Catholic Charities at their Refugee Service Center. It has been a privilege and an exciting opportunity to participate in World Refugee Day events in all three of the main areas that comprise the National Capital Region (Northern Virginia, DC, and Maryland). The process has allowed us to make and strengthen our partnerships with key resettlement agencies in our region as well as reach out to many refugees to let them know how the Red Cross can help them and their families reconnect.
For more stories from the American Red Cross National Capital Region, please click here.