Friday, January 23, 2015

How the Red Cross Focuses on Human Needs: Humanitarian Services and Migration

By Cassie Schoon, Volunteer Writer

I thought about treading lightly with this topic. There are few more politically divisive issues than that of migration. But this blog -- and the upcoming Red Cross Lunch and Learn that it previews -- isn’t about politics. It’s not about the Red Cross taking a side or promoting immigration policy, because the Red Cross is a neutral organization; neutrality is written into the guiding values of the International Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement.

What matters to the Red Cross across the globe – and to Red Cross workers like Jon Dillon, a caseworker and outreach associate with the Red Cross Restoring Family Links program – is alleviating human suffering. For Dillon, who will host a special edition of the International Services Lunch and Learn event on Wednesday, helping migrants reconnect with displaced loved ones is a mission that transcends politics.

“First and foremost, we are a humanitarian organization that is there to serve the basic needs of human beings,” Dillon said. “I have a coworker who says it perfectly: there are five needs that people have in times of crisis, and those are food, water, shelter, access to medical services and family. And especially when you have family, access to the other four becomes a lot easier.”

Over the past several years, the International Committee of the Red Cross (the ICRC) has begun to look more closely at the humanitarian needs of migrant populations on a global scale. More recently, the American Red Cross began to examine the needs of migrants within the United States. After research among migrant populations in various American border cities exposed a specific need for RFL services, the Red Cross began to work closely with organizations with established relationships among migrant populations to address these family contact needs.

During the influx of unaccompanied children into the U.S. last summer, the Red Cross assisted detained minor immigrants in contacting family members both within the United States and in their home countries. The Red Cross provides these services to migrants as part of the organization’s commitment to universal humanitarian principles. For his part, Dillon sees the work of reconnecting migrants with displaced family members as the fulfillment of an essential humanitarian need.

“Having a loss of contact creates a lot of uncertainty, both for migrants and the family they’re trying to contact,” Dillon said.

Dillon said that providing these services also helps the Red Cross to build trust within a community that may need help from the Red Cross in the future.

“By providing these calls, we’ll also build more trust with the migrant communities, so when they are in U.S. communities and have other family contact needs, say, if a disaster happens in Mexico or Chile and they can’t get a hold of family, they will feel comfortable coming to the Red Cross for those services.”

Dillon said he hopes his presentation will help people understand the universality of the human need among all populations for family contact and security.

“Migrants are human beings, just like everyone else, and they have those basic needs,” Dillon said. “Helping migrants is very much a part of the mission of the Red Cross.”

The Lunch & Learn lecture will be presented Wednesday, Jan. 28, from noon to 1 p.m. at the American Red Cross, 444 Sherman St. RSVPs are requested by noon Tuesday, Jan. 27, by visiting Webinar options are also available for remote audiences. For more information, contact Tim Bothe .

Monday, January 19, 2015

What did you do on 2015 MLK Day of Service?

By Bill Fortune/American Red Cross
Photo by Curtis Lovett/American Red Cross

Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “Life’s most persistent question is: What are you doing for others?”

Volunteer Warren Roh (R) shows a smoke alarm to
9 month old Reagen Landiss in Colorado Springs.
On MLK Day, Americans across the country come together for a day of service, picking up the baton handed to us by past generations and carrying forward their efforts.  That is what happened in Colorado Springs on MLK Day as Red Cross volunteers joined with cadets from the U.S. Air Force Academy to install smoke alarms.

Four teams spread out across the area on a cool morning armed with smoke alarms and headed to Woodland Park, Black Forest and Peyton, as well as, several locations in Colorado Springs. The teams installed smoke alarms in 14 homes that had requested alarms based on a previous canvassing effort. Each home received 3 smoke alarms. They also received a home fire inspection and educational material to help them be better prepared for home fires and other emergencies.

 “This is a blessing,” said Brittany Landess who is the mother of three small children. “I feel so much better knowing that my children are just a little safer.” As the team was about to leave the Landess home five year old Branson stopped one of the Red Cross installers to make sure they had included an alarm for his baby brother.  “I want him to be safe, too,” he said.

The smoke alarm installations were part of the Home Fire Preparedness Campaign that is a 5-year effort to reduce fatalities caused by home fires by twenty-five percent over the next five years. In just the past few months, the Red Cross has already reached more than 36,000 people by installing more than 21,000 smoke alarms. Recent studies suggest that by having a working smoke alarm in your home you can improve your chance of survival by 50 percent.

Home fires occur with startling regularity in America and the American Red Cross responds to each one with the goal of alleviating the suffering brought on by a home fire. Disaster volunteers work closely with the families that have been displaced to help them with immediate needs like clothing, food and shelter. They also work to provide emotional and medical support if needed.

To find out more about home fire safety and the Home Fire Preparedness Campaign visit

Friday, January 16, 2015

January Lunch & Learn Event: Empowering Communities and Individuals to Fight HIV/AIDS

There are no easy answers in the fight against the HIV/AIDS pandemic. From disease to poverty to cultural taboos regarding drug use and sexuality, the challenges faced by patients, aide workers, policy makers and health professionals all have numerous facets and myriad causes. It was into this complex environment that Justine Feagles, the speaker for this month’s International Services Lunch & Learn lecture, arrived this past summer, when she travelled to Namakkal, India to work with populations living with HIV.

“I have been interested in medicine and children since a young age. Throughout undergrad I became a strong advocate for HIV and reproductive health rights,” said Feagles, who is currently in the last semester of her Masters program in International Disaster Psychology at University of Denver. “I've also always had this weird obsession with India, not sure why. The dream has always been to work in India with HIV positive people.”

In Namakkal, Feagles taught health courses to both male and female students, discussing HIV prevention and treatment as well as other sensitive topics such as sexual assault, STD prevention, puberty and cancer detection. At home in Denver, Feagles has worked with refugee populations through the African Community Center’s after-school programs for displaced youth. Currently, she works an intern therapist with the Community Based Services Team at Arapahoe Douglas Mental Health Network.
The IFRC uses this community-based model to address the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Although Feagles’ work in India and stateside has not intersected specifically with the efforts of the Red Cross, the International Federation of Red Cross & Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) leads global efforts to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, and to administer to those affected by the disease. Between 2009 and 2012, 57 National Societies of the Red Cross formed The Global Red Cross Red Crescent Alliance on HIV, which provides community-based prevention, education and support services in nations where such resources would otherwise be unavailable. But while health care services and resources fulfill an important and immediate need, the IFRC mission of empowering and advocating for those living with AIDS is a central component to the program’s long-term success. In Feagles’ experience, cultural stigmas surrounding the disease, and a lack of advocacy for those living with HIV/AIDS can create barriers to effective education and treatment efforts.

“The biggest challenge for the work I’ve been doing is providing reproductive health education in cultures where the subject is taboo,” she said. “It’s also hard to work with a population that is ostracized from society; it’s difficult watching others struggle and to know you'll be leaving in a few months and they’re stuck.”

Global populations affected by HIV/AIDS have powerful allies in dedicated professionals like Feagles, as well as in the community-based approach of the IFRC Global Alliance. But a great deal of need persists: only about one-third of the world’s population in need of HIV/AIDS treatment has ready access to it, and access to health education remains an issue in many high-risk populations. To begin to chip away at the many challenges related to the global HIV/AIDS pandemic, knowledge and understanding are key. With the Lunch and Learn event, Feagles hopes to reinforce the importance of these elements in the global fight against HIV/AIDS.

“I want to create awareness around the importance of advocacy and education surrounding stigma and health care access,” she said.

More information on the IFRC’s HIV/AIDS efforts can be found here.

The Lunch & Learn lecture will be presented Wednesday, Jan. 21, from noon to 1 p.m. at the American Red Cross, 444 Sherman St. RSVPs are requested by 12 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 20, by visiting Webinar options are also available for remote audiences. For more information, contact Tim Bothe.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

DIsaster Action Team Responds to Hotel Fire in Pueblo

DAT Captain John Goorley coordinates with ACOVA
and Pueblo FD to help affected residents of Bramble
Tree Hotel in Pueblo
By Bill Fortune/American Red Cross

Freezing drizzle, light snow and falling temperatures greeted Dan Chavez as he arrived at the Bramble Tree Hotel in Pueblo. The acrid smell of smoke was everywhere. Lights from fire trucks lit up the air as fire fighters worked to save the facility. Chavez is a member of the Disaster Action Team in Pueblo, Colo. He was responding to a call to help people who might be displaced by a fire at the hotel.

DAT Member Dan Chavez works to locate temporary
lodging for Bramble Tree Hotel residents if needed. 
When Chavez arrived he was greeted by a large crowd huddled in the hotel’s breakfast room while firefighters worked to secure the facility.  “Hotel fires are always difficult,” said Chavez. “There is a lot of confusion and the residents are tired and upset.”

The disaster team went to work right away to try and reassure people.  Team Captain John Goorley and his wife Sherrie also responded to the early morning call. The team’s first task was to coordinate with the fire department to determine what units were affected and how many people were in need of help.

Nancy Mungaray, a resident at the hotel, was awakened by alarms and commotion. She was happy to see the Red Cross helping. “It was hard to get information until the Red Cross showed up,” she said.”They were able to talk to the fire department so that we knew what was happening.”

The Pueblo Fire Department was able to contain the damage to one room with some residual damage to nearby units. Residents were allowed to return to the livable rooms. Hotel management provided rooms for a two families. Red Cross will be working with two additional adults to determine what needs they might have.