Red Cross: One of my favorite experiences

Guest post by Christina Li

Leah, Christina and Caitlyn

Volunteering has always been a big part of my life, and volunteering with the Red Cross has definitely been one of my favorite experiences. Two years ago, I joined the Woodbury High School Red Cross Club. Of course, me being me, I had to drag a couple of friends along: first Leah, and then Caitlyn. We started off with basic projects like holiday cards for veterans and blood drives, but pretty soon us three (Caitlyn, Leah, and me) started looking for extra opportunities. We worked together on the Pillowcase Project and helped raise money for hurricane victims (which hopefully we’ll be running next year, fingers crossed). When we were presented with the opportunity to participate in the International Humanitarian Law Youth Action Campaign, we were so excited. All of the projects we had done so far had been planned step by step for us, so this was the perfect chance to take control and leave an impact on those around us.

On the day of the training, we all got up super early and drove to the Red Cross office in Minneapolis. To be honest, we had no idea what to expect, and for me at least, I had no idea what International Humanitarian Law was. A little nervous, we walked into the classroom and… no one was there. Well, no students at least. At first, it was a little awkward being only 3 students in a room with 4 adults but, looking back, it was amazing to have that one-on-one type of learning environment. We were able to ask questions at anytime and launch into full scale debates about whatever we wanted. We talked about what International Humanitarian Law (IHL) was, what the Health Care in Danger (HCID) initiative was for, and, most importantly, what we could do about it. Being best friends with Leah and Caitlyn, the moment we 3 girls were set free to start designing our own campaign we all blurted the exact same idea. The hard part was in the details. Dr. Haji Dokhanchi, our instructor and a Red Cross volunteer, was incredibly helpful and we were able to pick his brain on what he thought would be most successful. We walked out of class practically talking over each other and bursting at the seams with different ideas.

Although we’re only sophomores, all of our schedules are filled with school and extracurricular activities, which made it really hard for us to work on our presentation all at the same time. We resorted to working on chunks at a time, and with the help of Dr. Nour Sinada, our club adviser, we finished our script and were ready to present. After countless emails, March 18th finally came, day one of our week of presentations. Teaching wasn’t a new experience for any of us, but teaching a class of 30 squirmy freshmen definitely was. We had become very passionate about the topic, and we tried to convey that in the way that we presented.

A week later, we had taught around 270 students in classrooms and reached out to over 1,000 students over social media. During and after the campaign, we were met with so many supportive students and faculty. We even had 46 students contact us about either joining the club or volunteering for the Red Cross. We couldn’t be more thankful for this opportunity to raise awareness for the Health Care in Danger campaign and for all of the people who have helped us accomplish our goal. We’d like to specifically thank the teachers who lent us their classrooms along with Dan Williams and Dr. Haji Dokhanchi, both of the Red Cross. This has been one of the most vigorous projects we have ever taken on, but it also became an extremely positive experience for our team and club, as well as for also our school and community.

Thank you all for this wonderful experience!

Measles: Vaccination is the best protection

The measles outbreak in Washington reminded us of the 2017 outbreak in Minnesota as well as successful global efforts to reduce the spread of measles. The American Red Cross and partners have made remarkable strides vaccinating children against measles part of the international Measles and Rubella Initiative. An infographic below highlights disease impacts as well as program achievements.  Despite these and other efforts, hundreds of children die from measles every day. So, we must keep on. Why? Vaccination is the best protection. We encourage everyone to work together because a shared effort makes a difference and saves lives. An easy lift right now could be texting the word PREVENT to 90999 to donate $10 to American Red Cross International Services.

 

Post by Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross
For additional Minnesota measles resources click here.

The more things change …

…. the more they stay the same.

That’s a spot-on adage when we consider fulfilling our Red Cross mission to alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies.

For example, one hundred years ago Junior Red Cross volunteers in Duluth made care packages for World War I veterans overseas.

This year our Service to the Armed Forces volunteers will distribute donated socks to veterans who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

Donated socks ready for distribution to military veterans in nursing homes. Photo by Jennifer Landeros

There are more examples and yet, whatever the year of the new year, the basics of life remain the same.

People need shelter, food and clothing. People need blood and blood products. People need to reach loved ones during emergencies.

The Red Cross helps meet these and other basic needs within the context of being impartial and neutral, of empowering volunteer service, and keeping an eye on preserving and promoting human dignity in all of our work.

With those thoughts in mind, this year we encourage you to look to the stars while keeping your feet on the ground. Make a regular commitment to:

  • supporting people affected by disasters
  • providing safe lifesaving blood and blood products
  • helping military members of our armed forces and their families
  • being trained in life-saving skills for emergency response
  • giving resources that help neighbors around the world

This quiz will help you choose which action is best for you.

Story by Lynette Nyman — pictured above last year with women living in Bangladesh in camps for people who have fled violence in Myanmar.  

Red Cross helps reunite two brothers after 30 years

Story by Jonna Meidal, American Red Cross volunteer

Albert Fulton with two of his grandchildren. Photo courtesy of Mr. Fulton.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a conversation with Albert Fulton is worth a million. He has lived a cinematic kind of life—a story so incredible it’s hard to believe it’s true. And yet, Albert is the epitome of humility. His enthusiasm for sharing his life, especially the part about how the Red Cross helped him find his long-lost brother, is contagious.

Albert and Charles Fulton were born in Tennessee and raised in a family of eight children. They shared the same bed as kids, were only a grade apart in school, and did everything together. Everything, that is, except play the piano.

“Every single person in my family went in to music, except me,” Albert states defiantly. “There was no way I was gonna sit down at no piano. I was rough and tough and loved sports,” he adds in his charming southern drawl. Despite his mother’s innate musical talents, she was never able to pass on her gifts to Albert. It’s a good thing too, because instead, Albert poured himself into science and made huge advancements for his field.

Albert studied chemical engineering in college and would later go on to advancing the mammogram machine at Xerox, teaching Nuclear Physics at Yale, and becoming the Lead Engineer for NASA and the Department of Defense. For most people, even just one of these contributions would be commendable, but for Albert, he feels the proudest about the family he created. Today, Albert lives in Austin, Minnesota. He has seven children and 42 grandbabies, all of whom he talks with “almost every single day.” This value on family started when he was young and was cemented by the bond he had with his brother Charles.

Charles ended up doing many amazing things in his life as well. He studied music at the University of Munich and started his own opera company. He toured all over Europe and Africa blessing the world with his musical talent. Albert says it was during this time that they started to lose touch, however.

They were able to reconnect in 1967 at their mother’s funeral. But then afterward, Charles went back to Amsterdam and was never heard from again. Most of the Fulton family figured the worst had happened to Charles. They figured he had either “died or was in a mental institution.” But Albert knew Charles was just “off doing his own thing,” which is why he tirelessly started looking for him.

This was no easy feat, given the fact that email wasn’t widely used at that time, so after over thirty years of searching, he finally turned to the American Red Cross Minnesota Region for help. Through the international Restoring Family Links program, in a matter of two months the Red Cross had found his brother Charles.

Albert remembers the day Charles called him like it was yesterday. He immediately started asking Charles, “What’s your mama’s name?” and “What are the names of all of your brothers and sisters?,” hoping that the caller really was who he said he was. It wasn’t long before both brothers were crying and catching up, joking around and telling stories about their childhood. They talked for three hours that day and have stayed in touch ever since.

When asked if there were any hard feelings about Charles’s disappearance, Albert states emphatically, “Absolutely not! There’s no bad blood between us. No bad blood at all! He’s my brother.” And that is that.

Albert is undeniably grateful to the Red Cross for finding his brother Charles. He becomes teary-eyed and emotional just discussing it. “I love you all for it!” he keeps saying over and over again. He mentions as well that the timing couldn’t have been more perfect, as both brothers are fighting similar diagnoses of cancer. “We can now fight it together,” he states. “Thank you Red Cross. You have changed my life forever!”

Click here to learn more about Restoring Family Links.

What’s it like to be a refugee?

This September 9-11, the Red Cross will be taking part in a humanitarian crisis simulation put on by the University of Minnesota. The goal of the weekend event is for participants to gain an understanding of the realities and difficulties facing humanitarian aid professionals and the people they serve. Volunteers, role-playing as refugees, doctors, United Nations Peacekeepers, and others, will transform a boy-scout camp in Cannon Falls, Minnesota into the scene of an international humanitarian crisis. Participants will encounter displaced refugees, outbreaks of disease, roving militias, and many multidisciplinary problems typical of humanitarian catastrophes.

University of Minnesota humanitarian crisis simulation course (Photo credit: UMN)
University of Minnesota humanitarian crisis simulation course (Photo credit: UMN)

Pj Doyle, a longtime Red Cross volunteer for the Minnesota Region, explains how the Red Cross’s involvement in the simulation helps the larger community: “As stewards of the Geneva Conventions, each national society is charged with disseminating information on International Humanitarian Law to citizens. This humanitarian simulation provides hands-on means for our chapter of the American Red Cross to fulfill this role.” Volunteers from the Minnesota Red Cross region will be role-playing as delegates from the International Committee of the Red Cross. During the simulation they will work on registering refugee role-players.

The simulation started in 2011 as a collaborative project co led by faculty in the Schools of Medicine and Public Affairs. Since then it has expanded to include the involvement of several different schools at the University of Minnesota and various NGOs, as well as the Minnesota National Guard. During the simulation, participants first attend didactic sessions that cover issues common to humanitarian catastrophes. Participants are then placed in multidisciplinary groups and act as emergency response teams. Throughout the weekend, these teams will assess various “camps” and “villages” as they assess problems such as malnutrition, security, and human rights violations. After their assessment, each team will develop a proposal for an intervention and present their solution to a board.

University of Minnesota humanitarian crisis simulation, 2015 (Photo credit: UMN)
University of Minnesota humanitarian crisis simulation, 2015 (Photo credit: UMN)

The course is a valuable learning experience for anyone who is interested in or currently pursuing a career in humanitarian aid work, as well as professionals currently working with former refugees. It is offered for a fee to adult participants from the community, and as a one credit graduate elective at the University of Minnesota. While the course places an emphasis on the public health aspects of humanitarian relief, the simulation provides an opportunity for anyone to develop and shape skills necessary for success in all areas of humanitarian work.

Photo credit: UMN
Photo credit: UMN

Both participants and volunteers are still needed and welcome for the simulation. Those interested in participating as a student or volunteering can learn more by emailing umnsim@umn.edu. To see more photos from the 2015 humanitarian simulation, click here.

Story by Adam Holte, American Red Cross Minnesota Region, International Services Intern

Bringing international humanitarian law to northern Minnesota

By Vanessa Smith, UW-Superior student and Red Cross Intern

It’s hard to believe that one year ago I was on a trip in Washington, D.C. as a member of the Political Science Association at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, and we had the opportunity to visit the national headquarters of the American Red Cross. I was amazed by the fact that Red Cross does far more than what most people assume that it does. Personally, I had always thought that it mostly dealt with blood services, but after visiting national headquarters I learned that the Red Cross also deals with international humanitarian law (IHL) along with several other areas of service.

rco_blog_img_uws-team
UWS students visiting the American Red Cross in Washington, D.C. Photo credit: Haji Dokhanchi.

Personally, I was highly interested in Red Cross’s dedication to educating and increasing awareness in regards to IHL. In fact, the American Red Cross has adopted a campaign from the Belgian and French Red Cross’s that have developed a simulation training program called “Raid Cross.” This program explores and addresses the humanitarian issues involved in armed conflict situations, the basic rules of IHL that apply, and the importance of these rules in conflict situations, such as preventing harm to civilians.

I was eager to know if and how I could become involved with the American Red Cross and IHL. So, while I was visiting D.C., I asked my professor if he knew of any internship opportunities in the Twin Ports area with American Red Cross. In fact, he pulled his email up on his smart phone and sent an email to Dan Williams with the Minnesota Red Cross chapter in Duluth, right there on the street in front of the Red Cross national headquarters! By the time I returned from the east coast, I had an interview set up with Dan and was well on my way to starting my journey with American Red Cross.

UWS students participating in Raid Cross training.
UWS students participating in Raid Cross training. Photo credit: Kota Yanagidani.

Since then, I’ve been working to educate the local community about IHL. We recently held an event at the Allworth Institute for International Studies at the University of Minnesota in Duluth. This was a lecture by Red Cross volunteer Pj Doyle regarding refugees and immigrants to the United States. At this event, we reached out to more of an older generation in attendance from the area community. The next day we held an actual Raid Cross simulation at the University of Wisconsin – Superior. At the simulation we had almost 50 people in attendance, which included local high school and college students. We did both of these events all in one week! I really enjoyed knowing that we had reached more people in the community regarding IHL and refugee and immigration processes. When speaking to students after the events, I learned that many really enjoyed the experience. Also, I think that the community members were quite pleased, and maybe even surprised by, how beneficial the Raid Cross simulation training was.

High school students during a Raid Cross training at UWS
High school students after a Raid Cross training at UWS. Photo credit: Haji Dokhanchi.

When I started my internship with the Red Cross, I knew this was the kind of work that I wanted experience doing. My major is Political Science and my minor is Global Studies so I’m very interested in various topics, such as law, policy making, international relations, and humanitarian aid. Through my Red Cross internship I continue to learn more and more information that relays back to helping me with my major and it makes me feel especially good because I know that through my internship I’m educating the community on issues that are a passion of my own.

To learn more about IHL for young people, click here. A version of this post was recently published on the Humanity in War blog.  To learn more about Red Cross internships and other opportunities to get involved in Minnesota, click here.

Every story has a flip side: Haiti five years on

haitimap_3
American Red Cross Haiti Assistance Program screen grab from website.

Recently, several media reports have called into question the American Red Cross response during the past five years to the 2010 Haiti earthquake disaster. We stand-by our response to the earthquake disaster. And, we are disappointed to see how our work has been misrepresented in some media.

With generous support of the American people, the Red Cross has helped millions of Haitians who desperately needed humanitarian assistance. Donations enabled the Red Cross to help build and operate eight hospitals and clinics, stem a cholera outbreak, supply clean water and sanitation, provide job training, and move more than 100,000 people out of make-shift shelters, comprised mainly of tarpaulins and tents, into safer and improved housing. We also helped build and repair infrastructure, such as schools, roadways and water distribution points, all vital to neighborhood recovery. Despite challenging conditions in a developing nation, including changes in government leadership, lack of land for permanent housing, and civil unrest, our hardworking staff—90 percent of whom are Haitians—continue to work to meet the long-term needs of the Haitian people. While the pace of progress is never as fast as we would like, Haiti is better off today than it was five years ago.

#RedCrossProud_HaitiTeam
American Red Cross team in Haiti, June 2015. Photo provided courtesy of Vanessa Deering, Haiti Assistance Program Coordinator.

To learn the facts about our Haiti Recovery Program and to hear from those we have helped and continue to help, please visit The Red Cross in Haiti: Five Years of Response and Recovery. See also The Real Story of the 6 Homes in Haiti and 13 Facts about the Red Cross Response in Haiti, which directly address the numerous inaccuracies in recent media reports. To read “Haiti on My Mind,” a recent personal account from a relief worker who responded early to the disaster, click here.

The American Red Cross has been there to help people in need for 134 years. It will be there for the next disaster or emergency to help people across the country and in other areas around the world. Thank you for your support of the American Red Cross.

Measles anywhere is measles everywhere

Story and photo by Niki McMillian, Senior Associate in International Communications with the American Red Cross

Children visited by Red Cross volunteers during a social mobilization effort for measles in Benin. Photo: American Red Cross/Niki Clark
Children visited by Red Cross volunteers during a social mobilization effort for measles in Benin. Photo: American Red Cross/Niki McMillian

It’s almost become a cliché in the headlines. But in many ways, it’s true. It is a small world. While news of the measles outbreak at California’s Disneyland and information about vaccinations are making headlines this week, the American Red Cross has been focused on the virus—and its elimination—for nearly a decade and a half. Because measles anywhere means measles everywhere.

Even though measles was eliminated from the United States in 2000, outbreaks can occur when unvaccinated travelers pick up the measles abroad, importing the virus as an unwelcome, and often unknown, souvenir. Last year’s outbreaks in Ohio, Washington state, New York, San Diego and Nebraska have all been linked back to unvaccinated Americans that had recently visited measles hotspots abroad.

Those hotspots are exactly the type of places where the Measles & Rubella Initiative (M&RI) is working the hardest. Since 2001, the Red Cross, as a partner in the M&RI, has vaccinated 1.1 billion children in some 80 countries, helping to raise measles vaccination coverage to 84% globally, and reduced measles deaths by 71%. This means there are fewer chances of measles being imported into countries that have already eliminated the virus. And while health advances have been impressive, outbreaks like the one in California—now confirmed at 51 cases—have clearly demonstrated that the work of M&RI is far from over.

The Red Cross serves a unique role in measles and rubella campaigns. In a world where one in every 500 people on the planet is a Red Cross volunteer, our reach is unsurpassed. And that reach enables us to go door to door in communities where campaigns are happening, both before, during and after, spreading the word to mothers and families. In order for a campaign to be considered successful, a 95% coverage rate is needed. Red Cross volunteers, neighbors living in the communities in which they work, can help this happen.

Measles is a highly contagious virus, spread by contact with an infected person through coughing and sneezing. When one person has measles, 90% of people they come into close contact with will become infected, if they are not already immune through vaccination or previous contraction.

Before the formation of M&RI, more than 562,000 children died worldwide from measles complications each year, some 1,539 every day, mostly children under five years of age. While there have been great improvements, today an estimated 122,000 children—approximately 330 per day—still die from measles-related complications every year. This number is even more tragic when considering that is only costs $1 to vaccinate a child, making it one of the most cost effective global health interventions.

It is a small world. Outbreaks in Africa, Asia and Europe later show up as outbreaks on our own front doors. But together, we can eliminate measles once and for all.

For more information or to donate, visit measlesrubellainitiative.org. To see how Red Cross volunteers help spread the word during measles campaigns, watch Door to Door: A Measles Campaign in Benin.

This story originally appeared on the American Red Cross blog