Bridging the Path to Preparedness in Ecuador

VeronicaPreparedness.  I talk about it often as part of my job.  I share tips and helpful information about how to better prepare, and often wonder if people actually feel confident about what to do in case of an emergency.  But I am now content to know that in South America, specifically Ecuador, families and communities know exactly what to do in case of an emergency.

I was fortunate to travel with another staff member from the Red Cross International Communications team to Ecuador in late March where we visited coastal areas, since earthquakes and tsunamis are big threats there. The American Red Cross, in partnership with USAID, funds preparedness programs to teach communities everything from first aid, and lifeguarding skills to disaster preparedness.  We also visited a few rural communities where flooding is their big threat, and I was in awe at how prepared everyone was.  Ever since these programs were implemented, the culture among the community has become all about preparedness.

We spoke to community residents who were so proud of the skills they had learned from the Red Cross.  I was particularly impressed when we visited a school in Manglaralto named Escuela Alfredo Sanz Rivera.  The kids were on vacation, but came to the school to greet us and show us everything they had learned through the program.  I was in awe as these kids, who were not much older than 12 years old, knew so much about first aid, how to use an extinguisher and how to carry a patient on a stretcher.  They told us how they had already put their skills to good use by helping out their siblings when one of them was burned.  I have a 15-year-old son and am sure his first instinct would be to use Google.

photoSome of the areas we visited had to great creative with their evacuation plans. The town of Briceño de Afuera is a small community outside of Guayaquil. People were excited that we had come to visit. They were eager to share their evacuation plans with us. This town is prone to flooding, but not from rain, rather from the nearby bodies of water that rises.

There is only one convenience store for the whole community and you must cross a bamboo bridge to get to the store. There were several of these bamboo bridges which looked like they could fall apart at any given moment. I actually had to cross one of the bamboo bridges and was scared to death.  The water below me looked muddy and dirty. But it helped me to think about the people that I had just met, that lived there and how it was their way of life.

They showed us the community evacuation plan they had created with the help of the Red Cross.  A member of the community had drawn the map and plan by hand. They went through every detail and were proud of the plan they had created. They demonstrated to us how they use a homemade firecracker to announce to the town that there is an evacuation. Yes, a firecracker!  It looked like a bottle rocket that I use to light up when I was a kid. It apparently works well as an early warning system for community members. The whole town attested to the fact that they knew exactly what to do when they heard the loud pop.

We are so fortunate to live in a country where we have so many resources and help at our fingertips.  However, it is extremely humbling to know that we, at the Red Cross are helping in other parts of the world.  Communities are being resourceful however they can.  I’ve never been more confident about the importance of teaching preparedness.  Because even if we think we know it all, our mission is still helping others, somewhere in the world in getting better prepared.


Written by Veronica Vasquez, a member of the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago, who traveled to Ecuador in late March 2014.

Disaster Recovery Partners Weather the Storm

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I first got to know Church World Service (CWS) during the severe storms and floods last spring that were so widespread that 49 Illinois counties received federal disaster declarations. I had just taken on my new responsibility for partner relations with the American Red Cross Greater Chicago Region.

CWS support for flood survivors started right away in the form of CWS Emergency Cleanup Buckets. The buckets arrived at the perfect time and we got them right out to flooded households. People really, really appreciated them.

So did our volunteers. The buckets are so visual, and our volunteers
asked, “Who’s behind these?” The buckets helped spur the interest of our volunteers in our partner relationships, including the long-time partnership between CWS and the American Red Cross nationally and in communities across the United States.

Early on, the CWS U.S. disaster response webinars and on-site “Recovery Tools and Training” workshops helped us lay the groundwork for long-term recovery following the floods.

039I got a lot of my first education through the CWS webinars. A lot of people sent me a lot of reading material about long-term recovery, but I didn’t have time to sit and read hundreds of pages during those first weeks responding to the flood disaster. But I could find an hour here and there to watch an archived webinar on the CWS website.

I’ve listened to the same CWS webinars over and over again and learned something new each time. The webinars also have been great for a lot of members of our local COADs – Community Organizations Active in Disaster.

Then in October there were three day-long CWS “Recovery Tools and Training” workshops, two in my region and one farther south, in Peoria. I can’t say enough good about them. CWS brought into our area really strong education, with presenters from CWS, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, Lutheran Disaster Response, World Renew, FEMA and the American Red Cross, which also provided funding. It was so valuable to have the chance to talk with staff from these agencies, and really helpful in moving us forward in our long-term recovery.

The workshops really helped our local nongovernmental partners understand the disaster recovery process. For example, we have an organization that provides counseling services. They had no direct disaster experience. The workshop increased the staff’s confidence working with people recovering from flooding.

Floods are so difficult. They are not very visual. A lot of the damage is inside the house. It affects pockets here and there. One part of the city may be flooded and another part completely unaffected. A lot of people inside and outside our communities didn’t know we were experiencing such a large disaster.

Lisle ERV Run 4.29.13 009The Red Cross introduced a new Flood App this year. It’s helpful for families in areas prone to flooding so they can receive flood and flash flood watches and warning alerts. It’s free to download from the iTunes and Google Play app stores.

This new technology is great, but it’s also important for people to connect face-to-face with agencies that can help. The workshops brought us media attention for the recovery, letting members of the community know there were these needs in their area and introducing them to what long-term recovery involves.

Susanne Gilmore is the CWS Emergency Response Specialist who relates to Illinois, and she has been wonderful. She’s a great organizer, knows how to put on a really sharp training, keeps the schedule moving and makes sure it’s relevant for the group. And she’s a mentor to me. She is available whenever little questions arise and provides a lot of honest and wise support plus connection to other partners.

Because of a lot of CWS assistance we’ve been able to constantly move forward in recovery. CWS is dedicated to our needs even now after public attention has gone elsewhere.

I know as we move forward that if we need CWS they are still there.

 

Sara Echols is Partner and Emergency Management Agency Program Support Manager, American Red Cross Greater Chicago Region.

 

 

Red Cross Nourished a Bright Future for Prisoner of War

Vince Kucharski’s youth in Poland was plagued by turmoil and war, but in the difficult moments of his life, acts of kindness provided by the global Red Cross would nourish a bright future for him.

“They were very good to us,” said Vince. “I still donate to the Red Cross and I like the Red Cross because they did help us. If they didn’t send us the packages we would be awfully hungry.”

IMG_2031Born in Warsaw, Poland in 1929, Vince lived through a tumultuous period, one that separated him from his family for 24 years. Germany had invaded Poland in 1939 when Vince was 10 years old. It was dangerous to walk the streets, especially if one did not carry the right documents.

The uprising in Warsaw lasted many days and the city was completely destroyed. He witnessed one of his friend’s from the platoon getting hit and he couldn’t do anything for him because he had to keep running. If it wasn’t for the International Red Cross, he would have gone hungry as well.

“One day I came home, and my mother was very upset,” said Vince. “My neighbors asked me where was my brother Ted, and his friend? I said I don’t know, I saw them last night and they went home. A half hour later across the street from my apartment building, there were two bodies that were just lying there. They were my brother and his friend. My brother was only 16 and his friend was 18.”

Amidst the hardships his family endured, the Kucharski family received relief. Vince’s first encounter with the Red Cross was in 1940 when he was a teenager. The Red Cross provided his family with food and medicine.

Sometime after his brother died, a man approached Vince with an invitation to join the Polish Resistance movement and form part of the Polish underground forces. This was the only way one could become part of the army, because it was so secret.

No one could know, not even his family. It was during his time with the Underground Army that Vince would once again come in contact with the Red Cross, helping him bear the brutalities of war.

On the day Vince set out to unite with fellow members of the Underground Army, his mother stopped him to ask where he was going.

“She told me, ‘I have a feeling I won’t see you for a long time.’ I said, ‘Oh ma.’ At that time, I didn’t even know where I was going,” he said.

His mother was right. Vince thought he would be gone for two days. It would be a total of 24 years before he saw his mother again.

In early October of 1944, Vince went to a Prison Camp in Germany called Stalag 11A. During his three months there as a laborer, the Red Cross would send packages once a month. After the three months, he signed up to be a laborer at a prison camp in another part of Germany and still received Red Cross packages.

The Stalag 11A Prison Camp fell into the Russian hands sometime after Vince left to the new camp and all of the prisoners were sent to Siberia. The new camp that Vince had moved to was later freed. He was sent to Hamburg, Germany which was under English control to work as a guard.

The packages helped Vince and others to keep going and alleviated their suffering. Furthermore, the food that he received from the Red Cross nourished a bright future that lay ahead of him.

scan0006Vince was given a ticket to Chicago in 1950 where he raised a family and bought a house where his family portraits hang on the walls. He has four daughters and many grandchildren. In looking back at his past, it is astonishing to see how that led to a fruitful present, one that is filled with much joy.

Written by Diana Brokop

Spreading the Word: Restoring Family Links

RFLOutreach Mini-Grant volunteer lead, Whitney Trumble, and International Programs Support Manager, Michelle McSweeney, presented on the ‘Restoring Family Links’ (RFL) program at DePaul University’s Law School in April.

The event was hosted by DePaul’s Society for Asylum and Immigration Law (SAIL), a student organization that looks to expose law students to asylum and immigration law through guest speakers, presentations and firsthand experience in the Greater Chicago area.

Students from SAIL gathered during their lunch hour to gain perspective on the American Red Cross Restoring Family Links (RFL) program.

The Restoring Family Links program helps locate and restore communication between families separated internationally by conflict, disaster or other humanitarian emergencies. By using the global Red Cross network 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 each year.

After receiving a mini-grant through the Red Cross, Whitney, together with a team of both new and experienced RFL members, developed a strategic plan to increase outreach in the Greater Chicago area. By connecting with local student groups, community organizations and public resources they are spreading awareness of RFL services.

DePaul’s Society for Asylum and Immigration Law provided an excellent outreach opportunity, as many of the students in attendance are also involved in DePaul University’s Asylum and Immigration Law Clinic (AILC) that works to assist clients on legal cases relating to asylum, justice or immigration issues. Students expressed that RFL services could be of use to clients they are now working with through the AILC.

Over the next few months, the Restoring Family Links outreach team will be scheduling more events like this one to increase knowledge on RFL services throughout the Greater Chicago region. The RFL team is specifically targeting Chicago neighborhoods with large immigrant and refugee populations such as Rogers Park, Pilsen, Uptown, Bridgeport, Humboldt Park and more. By focusing on these neighborhoods the outreach team hopes to connect with as many community members as possible, always with the ultimate goal of helping others reconnect with their loved ones throughout the world.

The Chicago Restoring Family Links team will be hosting a series of community events in Spring 2014 to share information on this program and how you can connect to the mission. If you are interested in attending one of the three upcoming events, please contact Mini-Grant Lead, Whitney Trumble at Whitney.Trumble@redcross.org.

To learn more about the Restoring Family Links program and to connect with the local program team, please visit us at http://www.redcross.org/il/chicago/local-programs/reconnecting-families.

Written By: Michelle McSweeney

“Uplifted” – The Cycle of Gratitude by Red Cross Volunteers

Volunteer Pic“I volunteer to improve public health and educate the community,” said Jordan from Chicago Red Cross’s Disaster Health Services department.

Hallie, who works on dispatch services, says she volunteers with the Red Cross because she believes in the cause. “I see the impact Red Cross has on the community and I wanted to be part of it!”

“Volunteering with the Red Cross gives me a sense of purpose. It allows me to have more involvement in the greater community”, said Peg Gramas, who also shared that one of her favorite parts about volunteering with the Red Cross is the fact that she has many different avenues to contribute towards.

Every day our volunteers just like Jordan, Hallie and Peg, generously give their time, new ideas, and compassion to the Red Cross. In return, they carry inspiring stories with them and a feeling that they have helped another person in need. Whether it is through emotional and mental support after a disaster, helping at a blood drive, or even being a digital advocate, the actions of our volunteers is what makes the Red Cross vision come to life.  In honor of National Volunteer week this year (April 6-12, 2014) we are thanking all our volunteers and partners for their incredible work.

Volunteers at the Red Cross have the opportunity to teach first aid, CPR, swimming and other lifesaving skills; respond to disasters and reconnect families separated by disasters or conflict; support blood drives across the country; and help veterans, members of the military and their families in the U.S. and overseas. The Red Cross also welcomes youth, nurse, and group or corporate volunteer work.

By having such an open channel for involvement, our volunteer force continues to grow. We are uplifted by the dedication of our volunteers and they in turn hold immense pride by giving back to the community.

Phyllis Watkins, and Marcia Johnson, both client assistance follow up volunteers, said that one of the most inspiring parts of their work is getting positive responses from clients after a disaster.

“I love when I can make follow-up calls to people we’ve helped, and ask how they are doing”.  “I just help them along their way and get their positive feedback and gratitude for the Red Cross,” said Phyllis, who has been volunteering with the Red Cross for over 20 years. “I love knowing they are doing well in spite of the trauma they are going through.”

To learn more about becoming part of the dedicated Red Cross volunteer force visit: rdcrss.org/1okedRy. And again, in honor of National Volunteer week we thank all of our nearly 400,000 volunteers for their devoted work and service. Thank you for all you do!

Written by: Raquel Silva

 

The Power of a Blood Donation: Amy Jones

Growing up, Amy Jones made simple goals for herself: Attend college, become a teacher and start a family. She has accomplished everything she set out to achieve and enjoys life alongside her husband, Ryan, and their young son, Carter. But Amy’s journey was not easy. In fact, it almost never happened.

At 10 years old, Amy started to always feel tired and lethargic. She seemed to develop bruises on her body easily, and her skin turned yellow. Realizing this was not a typical condition, Amy’s mother took her to their doctor.

More than 100 blood and platelet donations helped save Amy’s life when she was younger, and now she encourages others to donate.

More than 100 blood and platelet
donations helped save Amy’s life when she was
younger, and now she encourages others to
donate.

Amy was diagnosed with leukemia and underwent high doses of chemotherapy treatments every six weeks. Like many other cancer patients, she received several blood and platelet transfusions.

“Chemotherapy was a difficult process because it’s just so draining,” she said. “But it was the donated blood and platelets I received that gave me the strength to help fight the cancer.”

Amy’s leukemia went into remission after two and a half years of ongoing treatment, then she was released from her doctors.

“My family and I thought we had beaten this,” Amy said. “But, unfortunately, this was just the beginning.”

Amy relapsed when she was 15, forcing her to endure more intense chemotherapy. After receiving more than 100 pints of donated blood and platelets, Amy’s cancer went into remission again.

Now, Amy has been cancer-free for several years and encourages others to donate lifesaving blood and platelets to help patients in need.

“Without dedicated blood and platelet donors, I wouldn’t have been able to grow up, get married and have my son,” she said. “I hope people realize that blood and platelet donations can not only help a patient in need, but have an impact on future generations. My family and I are living proof of that.”

©2012 The American National Red Cross.

redcrossblood.org | | 1-800-RED CROSS

Testing rides and saving lives at the Red Cross auto show blood drive

NICKAMANDAThis year’s harsh winter cancelled many blood drives, but the American Red Cross Bloodmobile rolled up at the 2014 Chicago Auto Show, which helped to keep up with the constant need for blood.

The Red Cross Bloodmobile, a mobile blood donation vehicle, served as an opportunity for spectators at the auto show at McCormick Place to shift gears from the buzz of high energy crowds and polished cars, to make a pit stop to donate blood and help save lives. Donors ranged from enthusiastic first timers to veteran frequent donors. The annual blood drive at the Chicago Auto Show is the largest in the region for the Red Cross.

Attendees lined up to donate blood, sharing smiles and laughter with family and friends. The spirit of sharing continued as donors told their stories, explaining what motivates them to give blood.

“I do it because it will save a life,” said first-time blood donor Nick Umgelder.

Umgelder and girlfriend, Amanda Rubino, said they were inspired by the lives they can help save. Amanda, a nurse, said seeing her patients reminds her that each donation makes a difference.

One experience that has stuck with Amanda was when she directly transferred blood to a patient of hers who had been diagnosed with cancer. Her patient needed blood transfusions that matched her rare blood type after each of her chemotherapy treatments. When Amanda, who also had the same rare blood type, directly transferred her blood to her patient, it was the last time the patient needed a transfusion after chemotherapy.  Amanda’s blood donation helped in her patient’s recovery so much that the patient gave her a locket as a gift of appreciation.

“We still keep in touch, and she is about to graduate college,” said Amanda.

PETERMARYMAZIUKThe opportunity to donate blood at the Auto Show began with the generous work of Dennis Buckley. In 1999, Buckley, director of marketing for the Chicago Automobile Trade Association, proposed the idea for a blood mobile as a concept vehicle on the floor of the Auto Show. Although others were initially unresponsive to the idea, the Auto Show blood drive is now one of the largest open community blood drive programs in the Chicagoland area. Buckley was a Red Cross Heroes Breakfast honoree and was presented with the Blood Services award posthumously.

Mary and Peter Maziuk’s personal experiences also remind them of the importance of blood donations.

Mary was diagnosed with Leukemia when she was two years old. Leukemia is a type of blood cancer that uses donated blood transfusions as treatment. Although Mary is not able to donate blood, her husband Peter said his wife’s stories motivated him to begin donating blood again.

“It’s a great ability–saving lives,” said Peter.

The Red Cross blood drive at the 2014 Auto Show was a fun way to come together for a good cause, but there’s always an opportunity to give blood. Call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or visit redcrossblood.org to make an appointment or for more information. All blood types are needed to ensure a reliable supply for patients.

Story by Raquel Silva. Photos by Diana Brokop

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