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Hope for Peace: The Missing in Columbia

Jordi Raich, ICRC in Columbia

Jordi Raich, ICRC in Columbia

Story by Viviana Cristian, National Capital Region, Disaster Response Leader and Casework Supervisor

As the daughter of Colombian immigrants, I was excited to have the opportunity to sit in on an interview with Jordi Raich, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delegation in Bogota, Colombia.  For the last three generations, Colombia has been involved in a conflict that has displaced over four million people. While many Colombians have sought asylum abroad, those who have stayed have risked kidnappings, recruitment into armed forces, and forced disappearances.

Raich talked in detail about ICRC Bogota’s programs, including their role in ensuring safe returns for the missing. When someone is kidnapped within the context of Colombia’s armed conflict, the ICRC often acts as a neutral intermediary, speaking with all sides in an effort to visit people who are being held, ensure their wellbeing, and, when possible, work towards facilitating their release and family reunification.

I couldn’t help but tear up when he recounted one situation when he was traveling via helicopter with men released from an armed group, some of whom had been captive for nearly 20 years. They couldn’t believe they were really being released.  When they finally reached the airport, the men broke down and burst into a song from the salsa group Niche, “Hagamos Lo Que Diga El Corazón” (Let’s Do what the Heart Says).  The song is about how the crisis is now over, the bad things are in the past, so let us move on and go with our heart’s desire.

Fortunately, hostages are not often held for that long anymore; it is now a question of weeks or a few months.  In preparation for reunification, both the families and the soon to be released are counseled and brought up to date on each other’s lives.  ICRC’s role does not end with seeing the family and former missing person reconnect.  There is follow up to see how families are adjusting and if there is still a need for Red Cross services.

Throughout the interview, Raich emphasized three important points.  First, he said the Colombian Restoring Family Links (RFL) program has improved through the use of technology. Second, he personally believes the current peace talks between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (more commonly known as FARC) and the government will end the conflict. Third, he stated once the country enters a post-conflict situation, the RFL program will grow even more.  The guerilla fighters will be demobilizing and those fighters, among them minors, will be trying to find and reunite with family members.

For many years, I have doubted the ability of the conflict parties to agree to peace. Yet by the end of the interview, Raich changed my skepticism of the peace talks to actual hope.  I thank him for that and I thank him and ICRC Bogota for all they have done to help my fellow Colombians.

During this year’s International Day of the Disappeared, it is important to recognize the work the ICRC and other global organizations do to help locate the missing and provide comfort for their families. For more information on the disappeared and the work being done to uncover their fate, please visit the ICRC’s website on the missing.

QUIZ: Do You Actually Know How to Swim?

For the past 100 years, we’ve been helping millions of kids, teens and adults learn how to swim and become lifeguards and instructors. This year, the American Red Cross launched a new national campaign to reduce the drowning rate by 50 percent in 50 cities over the next three to five years.

The new Red Cross drowning prevention campaign comes at a time when a new national survey shows that people believe they are better swimmers than they actually are. The survey, conducted for the Red Cross, found that while 80 percent of Americans said they could swim, only 56 percent of the self-described swimmers can perform all five of the basic skills that could save their life in the water.

What about you? Can YOU perform the five basic swimming skills? Take the quiz now!

Powered by Interact

Join us as we champion water safety for the next 100 years. With programs based on the latest science, and new ways to learn in the water and online, you’ll be ready to get your feet wet.

Rip Currents – What Lies Beneath

By Dr. Peter G. Wernicki

As Hurricane Cristobal moves slowly up the Atlantic and Hurricane Marie tears through the Pacific, they are bringing high surf to vacation spots along both coasts and tempting surfers and adventurous swimmers to run headlong into the beckoning waves.

But it’s easy to forget that beneath those breakers there may be a danger that doesn’t advertise: deadly rip currents that can pull surfers and swimmers too far out to sea. Unfortunately, every year, even strong swimmers drown due to rip currents they either didn’t expect or didn’t respect.

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So before you head to the shore, remember safety tips from the American Red Cross:

  • Keep Clear. Swim at least 100 feet away from piers and jetties which often have permanent rip currents. A break or gap in waves, churned up sand and clusters of seaweed being pulled out to sea can also signal a rip current.
  • Stay Calm. If you are caught in a rip current, keep calm – you’ll think more clearly.
  • Don’t Fight It. Don’t try to swim against the current. Swim parallel to the shoreline until you are out of the current. Then swim at an angle away from the current toward the shore.
  • Ride It. If you can’t swim out of the current, float or calmly tread water. When you float out of the current, swim toward the shore.
  • Make Waves. If you are still unable to reach the shore, draw attention to yourself by waving an arm and yelling for help.
  • Help, Don’t Hinder. If you see someone in trouble, get help from a lifeguard. If a lifeguard is not available, have someone call 9-1-1. Throw the victim something that floats – a lifejacket, cooler or an inflatable ball. Yell instructions on how to escape the current. Don’t try to swim out to help them — many people drown while trying to save someone else from a rip current.
  • Swim Smart. Remember to avoid stormy seas, always swim sober, never swim alone and swim only at a lifeguard-protected beaches. Even confident swimmers should be sure they have enough energy to swim back to shore.

Get current on rip currents and make your dash into the waves a safe one!

 

Dr. Wernicki is Chair of the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council Subcouncil on Aquatics. The Council is a panel of nationally recognized experts drawn from a wide variety of scientific, medical, and academic disciplines. The Council guides the Red Cross on preparedness and emergency procedures and practices that align with the latest evidence-based scientific and medical knowledge.

Q&A from Iraq: A Firsthand Account

20140819-Iraq-In-Pictures-Main-4The American Red Cross is in northern Iraq providing relief to people seeking refuge from violence that has forced more than 650,000 people to flee to the Kurdistan region in recent months.

In addition to a $50,000 contribution to provide humanitarian assistance to displaced families, the American Red Cross has deployed disaster specialist Stacy Ragan to support in assessment, coordination, information management and reporting—essential assistance for an emergency of this scale, which can overwhelm local Red Crescent branches.

Ragan, manager of the American Red Cross International Response Operation Center, describes her experience in an interview from Dohuk for redcross.org. Here’s an excerpt:

Have you met anyone in particular whose story touched you or who was affected by the Red Cross’s work?

The very first person I met was a newborn girl who was just 12-days old. She was five days old when the violence started and her family had to flee Sinjar. She did not have a name yet because they had been on the run for a week before finding safe shelter in Dahuk. Her family was exhausted and traumatized from their experience. I was especially touched by her and her family.

Iraq QA

Get the rest of the inside scoop from the Q&A on redcross.org, and see a selection of Ragan’s photos here.

 

Mapping to Fight Ebola

The American Red Cross and the US State Department host a mapping event in  response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa

Remember when you were a little kid and one of the first things you learned were shapes –squares, triangles, lines and circles. Those shapes that form when you are three seem so innocent and simple, but they are vital in the fight against the Ebola virus.

On Friday, volunteers gathered at American Red Cross for an open source crowd mapping event with MapGive and Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team. Square by square and line by line, volunteer mappers came together to trace neighbor’s homes, access roads and warehouses in parts of Sierra Lione and Liberia by using satellite imagery. These efforts support the global response to combat the Ebola outbreak, a deadly virus that’s quickly spreading across West Africa.

Tracing shapes may seem mundane and tedious to some, but try telling that to the mappers themselves. Like any volunteer activity, there’s a reason behind what we all do. Maybe you have a passion for technology and this groundbreaking open source mapping is exciting and thrilling; maybe you’re in college and looking for something to do with your spare time without having to leave the comfort of your very own dorm; or maybe there’s family, friends and a personal connection that draw you to the cause. Whatever it may be, each volunteer mapper is providing invaluable information to organizations such as the global Red Cross network and Doctors Without Border that are trying to prevent the spread of Ebola.

ben freemanFor Benjamin Freeman Jr., his connection to virtual mapping was personal. Benjamin is visiting the United States from Liberia after being accepted to be a part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship, a flagship program started by President Obama. He heard about open crowd mapping and was immediately intrigued and eager to get started. For him, this was a small way he could make an impact in his country.
“Mapping is the best way I can work with others to make a difference,” Benjamin said. “I miss my family in Liberia, but I see the visual impact I’m making and feel a little better knowing I’m helping them.”

The next table over, Ranjani Sridharan, from Kenya, was inspired to start mapping after hearing Benjamin Freeman Jr., speak at a seminar encouraging people to map. Her husband, Aswin Subanthore, from India, already has a passion for mapping being a geography professor at University of the District of Columbia. However, it wasn’t until 2005 that his mapping experience really began when he visited India, his home country, after a massive earthquake in Indonesia in December 2004 caused a tsunami affecting nearby countries, including India. Ranjani and Aswin both map together feel this gives them a purpose.

Each trace of a lined road leads to clear transportation routes, each trace of a square house leads to in-person Ebola awareness and education; each trace on a map leads to humanitarian aid that will fight against the Ebola virus. Red Cross has 1,500 volunteers working in the affected areas, but volunteering has also spread its wings to the comfort of your own home. You can help too. Visit MapGive to get involved or learn more about Red Cross international efforts by visiting redcross.org.

150 Years of the Geneva Convention

One hundred and fifty years ago, the original Geneva Convention—more commonly known as the rules of war—was created. These rules govern and limit actions that take place during armed conflict, such as the protection of civilians and the wounded. And while many people have heard of these rules in one way or another, many do not know that the creation of the Red Cross movement is at the very heart of these rules.

After Henry Dunant, a Swiss businessman and social activist witnessed the atrocities of war during the Battle of Solferino in 1859, he recorded his encounter in the book A Memory of Solferino. Four years later in 1863, he formed the International Committee of the Red Cross as a direct response to that experience as an organization that could provide humanitarian aid to those impacted by the tragedy of war. The following year, the Geneva Convention was written, based on Dunant’s ideas and principles.

Today, as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the original Geneva Convention, we call on all parties to all conflicts to preserve what it means to be human by complying with the rules of war. Even war has limits. Learn more at www.redcross.org/rulesofwar.

Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Back to School for College Students

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During the elementary, middle, and high school years, much of the responsibility for students’ health and safety belongs to teachers, administrators, and school nurses. Staff members know CPR, basic first aid, and how to use an AED. Staff members know where to find the AED, how to evacuate students from the building, and where to shelter in place. Staff members lead, students follow.

But once students head off to college, a dramatic shift occurs. Though most colleges and universities provide students with extensive health and safety resources, students must begin to take responsibility for their well-being. Without the same level of supervision as in years past, students must begin to lead themselves.

So if you’re heading off to school this fall, check out these tips to help you become and stay healthy, wealthy, and wise during your years as a college student! (Ok, I admit these tips may not make you wealthy…)

Stock your dorm room with a basic first aid kit, basic emergency preparedness kit, and an extra dose of any needed medications. (Think epi-pens, inhalers, etc.)

Learn your surroundings, as in how to safely exit the building in the event of a fire and where to go inside the building should severe weather strike, remembering that stairs – and not elevators – should be used during emergencies. Additionally, figure out where the AED(s) and fire extinguisher(s) for your floor/building are kept.

Learn what to do in an emergency by taking a CPR/First Aid/AED class before heading to school or as soon as possible after arriving on campus. Participate in every fire and severe weather drill as though it’s the real thing. Share your schedule with your roommate, close friends, and/or family members so they could track you down if necessary, and determine how you would contact these people if an emergency separated you from your phone and computer.

Follow your school’s rules and leave prohibited appliances at home, cook safely, and don’t smoke or burn candles or incense in your dorm room.

The American Red Cross is – as always – dedicated to preparing students for a safe and healthy school year. Check out the resources listed below, and visit your college or university’s website for additional campus-specific health and safety information.

Learn more about or sign up for American Red Cross health and safety classes here.

Find American Red Cross first aid and emergency preparedness kits here.

Read more about the American Red Cross Safe and Well website (a central, online location where people affected by disaster can register their status and their loved ones can access that information) here.

The Journey from Arm to Arm — Wynonna & Cactus’ story

Blood donations help millions of patients in need.  To make the journey from “arm to arm,” every unit goes through so many steps and tests to ensure that it is as safe as can be. After finding a blood donation opportunity, and going through a short health history questionnaire and mini-physical, the Red Cross collects about 1 pint of blood and several small test tubes from each donor.  The donation is stored in an iced cooler and then transported to a Red Cross manufacturing center, where it is then scanned into a computer database and sent off.

The blood is received in one of three Red Cross National Testing Laboratories, where a dozen tests are performed on each unit of donated blood – to establish the blood type and test for infectious diseases.  Within 24 hours, the test results are transferred electronically to the manufacturing facility and units that are suitable for transmission are labeled and stored in refrigerators. This is the blood that is available to be shipped to hospitals 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Wynonna and Cactus’ Story 

wynonna

I am excited to once again partner with the American Red Cross and I am honored that they have chosen August 18, 2014 as Wynonna Judd Day during their 100 Days of Summer, 100 Days of Hope.

This date holds particular significance to me because it is the day that my husband, Cactus Moser, lost his leg, and nearly his life, in a motorcycle accident two years ago in South Dakota. I had long been a supporter of the American Red Cross, however, never before I had experienced the importance of blood donations so personally. Without the blood that was available to Cactus that day, I don’t know how our story would have turned out.

During the summer months, the Red Cross sees a significant decrease in the number of blood donations. So choose your day to make a difference. Give blood, give hope!  – Wynonna

Blood helped save Cactus’ life and strengthened the bond Wynonna and Cactus share.  To witness this bond in person, catch them on the road or follow their journey at www.wynonna.com.

To learn more about donating blood, visit www.redcrossblood.org

From Desk to Disaster: Interns Train to Become Responders

By Liza Crawford, Media Relations Intern

As a communications intern at the American Red Cross, I see stories every day about our volunteers responding to disasters. Their names are rarely mentioned, but their impact is clear. When a disaster strikes, the Red Cross is there, supporting those who have lost everything, providing them with basic necessities and comfort and holding their hands as they embark on the long journey to recovery.

I joined the Red Cross because I wanted to be a part of this mission, so I jumped at the opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and learn what it takes to be a disaster responder. For two days, I joined several other interns in Disaster Action Team (DAT) training – a series of courses led by incredible volunteers who go out into the field at a moment’s notice to help clients in their time of need.

DAT training detailed how the Red Cross meets the needs of those affected by disasters, including psychological first aid and providing shelter, and completely changed my perspective on disaster response.

The training began with an overview of disaster services, led by volunteer Kim Lemoine. She set the tone with an opening statement: “I get so much more out of it than I give,” she said, holding back tears. Instantly, I understood how rewarding volunteering can be.

Interns Adam Familiant and Cayla Machleit practice playing the role of Red Cross caseworkers.

Interns Adam Familiant and Cayla Machleit practice playing the role of Red Cross caseworkers.

After covering the basics, the training became more focused. We learned how the Red Cross provides immediate relief. The instructors reviewed skills and techniques to properly address the needs of each person, and then split our group into pairs for a role-playing activity. Each pair read through a disaster scenario and took turns playing the affected person and the Red Cross caseworker.

The second day of training began with a course on psychological first aid. The Red Cross helps both disaster victims and volunteers deal with the stress and trauma. This course explained various symptoms that may signal the need for a mental health professional.

The final course outlined the fundamentals of opening a shelter. Relocating to a shelter can be extremely stressful for disaster victims, and we learned how to plan and communicate to ensure the most comfortable experience possible. Training concluded with an orientation for any interns who wanted to volunteer with the local chapter, the National Capital Region, and many of us did.

When my training was over, I had an overwhelming urge to go out and hug every DAT volunteer. Next time I see a news clip reading “The American Red Cross is assisting the survivors,” I will know how important that assistance truly is.

To learn more about becoming a Disaster Action Team member, please contact your local Red Cross chapter.

Sometimes Heroes Wear Crowns

By Scott E. Toncray, APR

Hayley Lewis, 21, Miss Tennessee 2014 recently preformed lifesaving skills she learned from being an American Red Cross Certified Lifeguard. A fellow pageant contestant choked on a piece of chicken and Lewis’ instincts kicked in enabling her to clear the airway of the other contestant who is also her friend. Lewis also had to preform CPR on a drowning victim when she was a lifeguard. “I just figured that it was time to renew my skills realizing how important they are,” Lewis said following the First Aid and CPR class at the Nashville Area chapter of the American Red Cross. Sixteen other participants were certified the same night as Hayley. Her story was featured on the local Fox News affiliate.

Lewis practices how to save a choking victim on Red Cross Volunteer Scott Toncray

“I can’t imagine anyone not being around who could help someone if they needed it to prolong their life,” Lewis said encouraging others to take the class and become certified. Lewis participated in a blended course that includes both online and practical classroom experience with learning totaling approximately 5 hours. “Life threatening situations can happen to anyone and I wanted to learn skills so that I could help someone again if they ever need it,” Lewis explained.

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Miss Tennessee 2014 Hayley Lewis received her First Aid and CPR certificate at the Nashville Chapter of the American Red Cross

Miss Lewis will represent the state of Tennessee in the 2015 Miss America Competition on Sept. 9-14, 2014 in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Miss Tennessee 2014 Hayley Lewis learns CPR at the Nashville Chapter of the American Red Cross

In the Nashville area, nearly 7,000 people a year receive Red Cross training in CPR, first aid and other skills that help save lives. The American Red Cross offers courses where ordinary people can learn extraordinary lifesaving skills, such as how to perform CPR, how to use an AED, what to do if someone is choking, and how to prevent and respond to other emergencies until advanced medical help arrives.

Visit redcross.org/takeaclass or call 1-800-RED-CROSS (1-800-733-2767, option 3) for more information and to register for a class.

Scott Toncray is a public affairs volunteer for the Nashville Area Chapter of the American Red Cross and serves on the Advanced Public Affairs Team.